The leadership of the House of Delegates appears headed toward a confrontation with Gov. Harry Hughes over what it views as stalling by the administration on plans for a maximum-security detention facility for juveniles.
House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin and other House leaders emerged from a closed meeting today criticizing as "inadequate" the Hughes administration's plan to spend $1.4 million this year for improved security at the overcrowded Maryland Training School for Boys, the state's primary youth facility.
The intraparty attack on the administration, by Cardin and other leading Democrats, is sure to rekindle debate over the governor's overall corrections policies and specifically his philosophy about prisons. Hughes consistently has favored detention centers, rather than more prison-like facilities, to rehabilitate most juvenile offenders.
The legislative leaders' disagreement with Hughes is the latest in a series of conflicts over prisons policies. Hughes angered legislators during the early years of his first term by opposing construction of a new adult penitentiary. Last year he reversed that position.
Funds for greater security at the training school, in Baltimore, were approved last year, when problems with juvenile facilities first began to surface.
"We don't think he [Rex C. Smith, director of the Juvenile Services Administration] has an adequate plan for a maximum security facility for juveniles," Cardin said. "He's putting an eight-foot chain-link fence around existing buildings . That is not enough for maximum security. We hoped that by now we would have had a classification program underway. We're obviously disappointed by the delay."
Legislators said the JSA had made only lackadaisical attempts to set up a new classifying system and better rehabilitation programs for juveniles. This week, the JSA proposed a system in which only a handful of juvenile offenders would be committed to a maximum security facility, legislators said.
Jesse Williams, deputy director of JSA, said the administration has made "a good faith effort" to respond to last year's legislative request, which included $100,000 for plans for a new facility. He said the agency was not supposed to begin plans for a new maximum facility until a governor's task force report was submitted last December.
Williams said the proposal for classifying juveniles is "not a polished, completely tested out document" but it reflects a "concerted response" to the legislative request for an investigation of the problem.
Another legislative leader, who asked not to be named, said the juvenile corrections system is in a shambles, and said it is reminiscent of the chaotic prisons policies of former Corrections Secretary Gordon C. Kamka, who was fired midway through Hughes' first term.
Hughes' press secretary, Lou Panos, defended the administration's juvenile policy, saying the task force, which included some legislators, found that expansion of youth centers and a beefing up of security at the training school was the best solution to overcrowding and other problems. Panos said "an over-building of maximum security facilities leads to a warehousing" of juvenile offenders.
Cardin and other legislative leaders, hoping to put leverage on the administration to speed up improvements in the juvenile system, are considering adding $500,000 from the 1984 capital construction budget to build razor-lined fences that would increase security at the training school. Cardin said the legislature might consider allocating funds from the capital budget (the legislature does not have authority to appropriate money from the state's general fund) in the future to construct a new juvenile facility, once a plan is complete.
Most serious juvenile offenders now are placed at the training school, where 550 boys are living in housing designed to accommodate 340.