A task force studying ways to improve the juvenile justice system in Prince George's County called yesterday for the routine use of drug-sniffing dogs to detect drug activity in schools. But the county's prosecutor immediately rejected the idea as legally flawed and unnecessary.
The nine-member panel, largely composed of juvenile justice professionals, was appointed by State's Attorney Alex Williams (D) two years ago to suggest better ways of dealing with juvenile delinquency in Prince George's. Williams agreed with all of the group's recommendations yesterday, except for the proposed use of drug-sniffing dogs.
Among the suggestions embraced by Williams:
All youth offenders should undergo routine drug testing for various lengths of time after being found delinquent by juvenile court judges.
Such drug tests usually are conducted only for youths charged with drug-related crimes. The task force said, however, that testing could be expanded to all youth offenders next year, with the opening of a new and larger county courthouse that will include a drug testing laboratory. The testing is performed by the state Department of Juvenile Services.
Williams and other officials should support the state's plan to add a 48-bed "secure facility" for drug offenders on the grounds of the Boys Village detention center in Cheltenham.
The State's Attorney's Office should start a public education program to overcome neighborhood opposition to building such facilities in community settings, rather than in distant parts of the state, the task force said. The education campaign should stress the importance of keeping offenders within easy reach of family members, who can visit and join in group therapy.
Maryland law ought to be toughened to give judges "the authority to impose consequences on recalcitrant parents who have refused to participate in court-ordered family therapy, or who have otherwise made it difficult for their children to comply with court-ordered conditions of probation." Such a change would have to be made by the state legislature.
As for using drug-sniffing dogs in Prince George's schools, the task force noted that the Supreme Court "recently reaffirmed that the constitutional rights of students in school are not 'automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings.' "
When a drug-detecting dog begins sniffing or pawing at a locker during a random walk along a school hallway, it "is usually considered 'reasonable grounds' to conduct a search," the task force said.
But Williams, while praising the bulk of the task force's report, said, "The whole idea of dogs in the schools is disruptive."
He said he could foresee constitutional challenges to evidence seized in that manner. He also called the use of dogs unnecessary.
"Things are getting better in the school system," Williams said. He referred to other measures taken to combat drug activity in schools in recent years, including the elimination of smoking areas, the barring of electronic paging devices sometimes carried by drug dealers, and the toughening of criminal penalties for drug offenses committed in or near schools.