Monitor faults conditions at state juvenile centers

The Baltimore Sun

A report released yesterday by the state's independent juvenile justice monitor says that conditions are worsening at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center and that programming is lacking at the Victor Cullen Center, a new secure facility in Western Maryland.

The monitor's findings are the latest in a string of reports critical of conditions in the 144-bed Baltimore center, where observers have documented youth-on-youth violence and assaults on staff members. Department of Juvenile Services officials say improving safety there is a priority, but yesterday's report suggests that more could be done.

"Physical conditions and levels of violence at this facility continue to be of great concern and appear to be worsening rather than improving," the report says.

The monitor, who works for the Maryland attorney general, produces quarterly reports on the Department of Juvenile Services' facilities. The report released yesterday covers the first three months of this year.

The monitor's previous report, released in March, documented a December incident in which a youth was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center after being beaten by other youths.

Teachers at the center, who said their complaints about unsafe conditions there have not been addressed, met with the DJS and Department of Education officials last week - and on Friday with Gov. Martin O'Malley - to express their concerns.

DJS officials said they have been working to address the violence at the center. In its response to the monitor's report, the DJS noted a "dramatic reduction in the average length of stay" for juveniles housed at the justice center while awaiting placement in other facilities, which they have said will help make the justice center safer.

The monitor's report also covers other facilities, including the Victor Cullen Center in Frederick County. The 48-bed center, which opened in July, is the first new state-run program for juveniles in more than a decade. DJS Secretary Donald W. DeVore has called it "our flagship operation for Maryland."

The monitor's report says Victor Cullen has "encountered major start-up challenges that have affected its ability to provide a safe and secure environment for residents and staff and an effective rehabilitative program for youth."

Youths are leaving the program "without new job skills and [say] that they lack clarity about their futures," the monitor's report says. As of March 15, 28 youths were enrolled at Victor Cullen, which is expected to reach its capacity in July.

Victor Cullen had an early setback when its director resigned in December after acknowledging that he was accused of abuse while running a military-style academy for juvenile offenders in Montana.

The DJS disputed the monitor's findings, saying it "has implemented a treatment model at Victor Cullen and continues to enhance implementation through staff training, coaching, coordination and oversight."

As an example, the department said it has formed a partnership with the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to conduct a 10-week apprenticeship program that began this week.

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