Superior Court Judge Gladys Kessler has given the Department of Human Resources (DHR) until Sept. 1 to clean up its act at the 1,200-acre Children's Center complex, the site of the city's two juvenile institutions in Laurel, Md.
An order issued recently by Kessler calls for improvements in the areas of youth supervision, medical services, mental health services, the hiring and training of staff members, maintenance of buildings and security at the Cedar Knoll and Oak Hill institutions, which are used to confine youths arrested on criminal charges.
The order becomes effective July 1, and DHR must implement the new programs within two months after that date.
Over the years, the Children's Center has been caught up in numerous controversies following some inmate suicides, late night assaults on youths and counselors and alleged abuse of youths by cottage staff members.
Kessler's order is the result of a six-month inquiry, which focused on those problems and on recent charges of alleged misconduct by staff meembers at Cedar Knoll, a medium-security institution. The order is the court's attempt to force DHR to address these and other problems at the complex.
During hearings on the problems over the last several months, two lawyers from the city Public Defender Service, Truman A. Morrison II and W. Anthony Fitch, have represented youths at the center. Michael J. Dowd Jr. of the corporation counsel has represented DHR. Because many community organizations have expressed an interest in youth problems, Kessler has asked that individuals and civic groups submit written comments on the order.The comments, which will be accepted until June 15, are to be directed to Kessler with copies sent to the PDS lawyers and the corporation counsel.
A spokesman in Kessler's office said that the order could be changes as a result of the community's comments.
The most extensive program in the order is a requirement that DHR draw up a comprehensive and expedient plan for reporting and evaluating youths' complaints of mistreatment by staff members.
DHR is to "prepare, distribute and maintain emergency complaint" forms that children can sign and deposit in locked boxes to notify administrators that they want an interview about a complaint, the order said. Forms and boxes are to be located in areas frequented by youths, and the boxes are to be checked daily. The order further directs that no counselors or non-administrative staff have access to the complaints.
Children are to be granted interviews within 24 hours after they file a complaint, the order said. Within that time, or shortly thereafter, institution officials must notify the child's social worker and attorney of the complaint.
Following the interview, the official will determine if the case needs further investigation based on standards directed by the order. One standard dictates that "every allegation of physical and sexual abuse shall automatically be investigated further."
The order also outlines procedures for interviewing youths and witnesses, compiling case histories, providing security for youths filing complaints, monitoring future complaints and, if necessarry, removing staff members to non-child care positions.
Focusing on medical treatment programs at the institutions, the order directed DHT to:
Submit to the court a detailed plan on training all cottage counselors in emergency first aid.
Obtain an emergency vehicle to transport emergency cases to area medical facilities.
Provide fulltime registered nurses and part-time practical nurses at the two institutions.
Prohibit non-medical staff from dispensing medication, especially mind-controlling drugs. Place tighter restrictions on the use of medication by medical personnel.
Establish a more accurate screening process to identify emotionally and mentally ill youths and provide detailed plans outlining the care and monitoring of these children.
Submit a plan to hire more mental health staff, such as psychiatrists, psychologists and caseworkers, to decrease the present youth-staff ratio in this category.
Based on the inquiry, the court also directed DHR to remedy other problems.
During the past year, the inquiry found that DHR covered staff shortages by using existing staff members in more than 100,000 overtime hours. The department was directed to remedy these critical staff shortages and implement new hiring and firing procedures to upgrade personnel in counseling positions.
The court also told DHR it must plan and implement a job-training program for new cottage counselors. According to the order, the program must include extensive pre-service and in-service training during the first six months of employment. The program would be designed to screen new personnel, allowing DHR to determine which persons are suited to continue as counselors. In addition, yearly in-service training would be required.
Kessler also asked DHR to submit recommendations on whether or not persons with criminal records should be employed as cottage counselors.
Another issue discussed was alleged late night assaults on counselors and youths. The department was given three options for providing better security for employes and youths:
Open dorms could be remodeled into individual rooms with inside locks.
Secure, floor-to-ceiling partitions could be installed between beds to separate youths.
Counselors could be stationed inside a secure structure (such as a glass booth) in the sleeping areas to monitor the youths.
A copy of the order was published this week in the "Washington Law Reporter." Copies of the magazine can be obtained by calling 331-1700.
Persons submitting comments on the order are required to briefly describe their interest and/or qualifications for making their submissions.
Comments are to be directed to:
Judge Gladys Kessler, D. C. Superior Court, Room 1510, D. C. Courthouse, 500 Indiana Ave., NW, Washington, D. C. 20001.
Copies of the comments are to be sent to Truman Morrison and Tony Fitch of the Public Defender Service, 451 Indiana Ave. NW, Building D, Washington, D. C. 20001, and to Michael Dowd, Office of the Corporation Counsel, D. C. Courthouse, 500 Indiana Ave. NW, Room JM-170, Washington, D. C. 20001.