Maryland health secretary Adele Wilzack told legislators yesterday that her $6 million plan to revamp the state's troubled juvenile justice system is the first step in correcting crowding and understaffing at two institutions.

"We have a 20-year-old system that has not had significant changes in some time," she told the House Appropriations Committee. "This is a long-term initiative, not a quick fix."

Wilzack's plan includes the hiring of 110 employes at the Charles J. Hickey Jr. and Montrose schools in Baltimore County. Critics have said that the proposal runs counter to internal management recommendations that support closing the Montrose facility.

"The state is throwing good money after bad," said Tony Fulton, executive director of the Maryland Association of Residential Facilities for Youth. Placing more of those services in the private sector, Fulton said, would improve "continuity of care, quality of services and is cost-effective."

Wilzack's budget proposal for juvenile services is scheduled to come under legislative scrutiny next week. Del. Robert R. Staab (D-Baltimore County) suggested that the state could administer services to more needy young persons through community-based services. Wilzack said that she hopes to strike "a very uneasy balance."