Maryland Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Adele Wilzack has asked the state for $9 million to improve its overcrowded, understaffed training schools and to upgrade other juvenile services, problems underscored in a report to the General Assembly this fall.
A management study commissioned by the Health and Mental Hygiene Department and later presented to the legislature found that officials of juvenile facilities often lack enough information about residents to provide them with appropriate services.
Moreover, the state, which ranks among the top 10 nationally in incarceration rates for juvenile delinquents, offers few alternatives for troubled youths, the study found.
If approved by Gov. Harry Hughes and the General Assembly, the Juvenile Services Administration funds would be used to hire additional staff, renovate buildings, investigate alternatives to incarceration and reduce overcrowding. Of particular concern to officials are the largest facilities -- the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County, an institution for boys, and the coeducational Montrose School in Baltimore County.
Both those facilities, according to the study, are severely understaffed and are much larger and more crowded than recommended under national accrediting standards.
Maryland social service advocates and lawmakers who oversee the department said they are pleased the problems are being noticed, adding that some improvements have already taken place. Nevertheless, they said, problems are so severe that the extra money may not go far enough.
"We have been concerned for some time," said Del. Nancy Kopp (D-Montgomery), who heads the House appropriations subcommittee that reviews human services spending. " . . . There was just a lack of planning and purpose in the department, as well as specific problems." Wilzack "is looking at the whole range of questions, and we find that impressive," Kopp said.
But, said Susan Leviton, an attorney and law professor who represents youths in court proceedings, "It doesn't make sense to pump more money into that program. It makes more sense to build up other programs on a smaller scale.
"There are so many kids with so many different problems," she said, "there's no way they can adequately address the problems by putting them into those institutions. They can spend the money far more effectively."
Almost 90 percent of the youths entering the juvenile system are delinquents and the rest are truants, runaways, or children deemed ungovernable by their caretakers. A smaller portion are neglected or handicapped.
Juvenile offenders who come under court jurisdiction may be sent to a variety of institutions. Others may go to youth centers, group homes or other community-based programs.
In fiscal 1984, the Juvenile Services Administration reviewed 37,084 cases and incarcerated 1,400 youths.
Among the problems highlighted by the management report:
*The rate at which cases are formalized and referred to the state's attorney's office for prosecution varies widely from one jurisdiction to the next, indicating that different standards are used.
Black youths are also more likely to have their cases sent to court and to be committed to an institution, the study indicated.
In St. Mary's County, for example, about 21 percent of referrals are made to court, compared with 55 percent in Allegany County, which like St. Mary's is a rural county. Statewide, about 59 percent of referrals are for white juveniles and 41 percent for black youths. Among cases sent to court, 48.6 percent involve white juveniles and 51.4 percent black. But 34 percent of youths committed to institutions are white and 65 percent are black.
*Commitments are sometimes made to institutions because funds are unavailable for less restrictive, community-based facilities. In a number of cases, the study found, other placements could have been arranged had money been available.
*Complete assessments, including psychological evaluations and analyses of drug-abuse problems, were not being done for juveniles, so that appropriate programs were not developed for those who needed them.
*Staffing at the juvenile facilities is inadequate. In particular, there is a shortage of trained counselors.
Wilzack testifed at a budget hearing that the Juvenile Services Administration is being restructured.
But some advocates for youth services said the only way to address the problems at the institutions is to stop all admissions to the Montrose and Hickey schools and develop programs in other settings.
"They're spending a lot of money and not getting a lot of services for it," Leviton said.