Report: Rampage at Md. Juvenile Center Shows Some Ill-Suited for Rehab Effort

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Maryland's juvenile detention center in northern Frederick County, which was remade to be a model of security and innovation, is falling short on both counts, a state monitor said in a report released Monday.

The Victor Cullen Center in Sabillasville reopened two years ago as a smaller facility focused on mental health therapy for teenagers with little or no violent crime in their past.

But several weeks ago, in a rampage recounted in the monitor's report, 14 residents -- including some who had been charged with serious offenses -- escaped after the takeover of two small buildings.

The escape was the third at the all-male facility since it reopened in 2007.

The state's Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit says the presence of such offenders raises questions about who is being placed in the facility, where rehabilitation is supposed to be driven by the juveniles themselves.

Some, however, have histories of serious and violent crimes, the report says, and that makes them ill-suited for the rehabilitation program, known as Positive Peer Culture. "Youth who participate in PPC must be able to comprehend the nuances of the program and must be amenable to treatment," the report says.

And some offenders have pronounced mental limitations, the monitor's report says. A sampling found four juveniles with "borderline intellectual functioning" and one that is mentally retarded. "Many youth at Victor Cullen do not have the cognitive ability to successfully participate," it notes.

In a letter responding to the report, the state's Department of Juvenile Services acknowledges a need for "more structured programming" but takes issues with several of the monitor's points, saying, for instance, that the monitor overstates the residents' criminal histories.

An arm of the state attorney general, the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit has issued numerous reports that were critical of the state's troubled juvenile justice system.

The Cullen report recounts the harrowing events that began to unfold shortly before 7 p.m. May 27 at the 48-bed facility near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border.

The trouble began when a resident of one cottage refused to end a phone call that had exceeded the allowed time. After a staff member cut off the call, the resident elbowed the man in the face. Other staff workers came to help subdue the resident, and the fracas spilled into a common area in view of other residents.

A staffer in the cottage next door, left alone with 11 residents, was assaulted. Some of those residents forced their way into the first cottage and assaulted three staffers, knocking them to the floor, stomping them and striking them with mop handles and chairs.

Fourteen of the residents then bolted across campus to a new building housing the facility's apprenticeship program. There, they stole hammers and wire cutters, which they used to cut through two layers of fencing. Ten of the escapees broke into a maintenance building, where they tried to steal vehicles but were confronted by police. Four others took off for nearby railroad tracks and had walked at least a mile before they were spotted by police from Pennsylvania.

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