Maryland's secretary of juvenile justice and four other top officials lost their jobs yesterday after a state investigation concluded that teenage offenders at the state's boot camps had been beaten and abused as part of the camps' regular regimen.
In addition, State Police Superintendent David B. Mitchell said some guards at the facilities in Western Maryland are under criminal investigation for their treatment of the youthful offenders sent to the camps from all over the state.
"There was a complete breakdown in the [juvenile justice] department's chain of command," said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), who oversees Maryland's criminal justice system. She said guards at the boot camps engaged in "unconscionable abuse of authority."
Secretary Gilberto de Jesus resigned at the request of Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D). Phil Colbert, a department assistant secretary; Don Carter, the superintendent of the facilities; and Jeff Graham, the assistant superintendent, also resigned. Department deputy secretary Jack Nadol refused to resign and was fired, the governor said.
The departures come after a week-long investigation headed by former state public safety commissioner Bishop Robinson concluded there had been "unnecessary and inappropriate use of force" as part of induction at the boot camps.
Even before that investigation concluded, Glendening removed the 79 youths at the camps and temporarily shut down the facilities Saturday.
The investigation was prompted by stories in the Baltimore Sun detailing guards hitting, punching and throwing shackled youths to the ground. The newspaper published photos of youths with split lips and other injuries, and the stories reported that the youths received inadequate follow-up supervision once they completed their sentences at the camp.
Glendening and Townsend reacted angrily to the reports, demanding explanations from de Jesus, who initially told them there was no systematic violence.
The governor said yesterday that the investigation concluded otherwise. "Our trust, and perhaps more important, the trust of the people of Maryland, has been violated," Glendening said at a State House news conference.
At the same time, he said, "ultimate responsibility is with me." He said once he was aware of the allegations he moved quickly to correct abuses.
"I know we are dealing with individuals, residents who have a history of violence. . . . Having said that, I must emphasize our basic values. No individual in our care in any institution, any program, anywhere in the state will be subject to physical harm or violence," Glendening said.
Townsend said she became aware of the allegations in August from a Sun reporter working on the story. Initially, she said, only one instance of abuse by guards at one of the camps was described to her. She said she instructed juvenile justice officials to make sure there was no pattern of problems. She insisted laws protecting the youths be followed.
"Department top management emphatically denied that any abuse was occurring," she said. Once she learned otherwise, Townsend said, she and Glendening agreed on the need for an investigation.
Despite the problems, Townsend said she remained committed to the idea of military-style boot camps as a way of reforming youthful offenders and said the camps should continue once reviews of operations are completed. Robinson, who will serve as interim head of the juvenile justice department, will head that review.
But at least one member of the review panel is arguing against the boot camps. Jann K. Jackson, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth, said she believes the boot camps send abused youths the wrong message about reform with the stern, military-like procedures.
She said more needs to be done to help the youths with education, drug treatment, screening for mental illness and job training. She said she hopes the controversy surrounding the boot camps will trigger broad reforms of Maryland's juvenile justice system.
CAPTION: State Juvenile Justice Secretary Gilberto de Jesus resigned at the governor's request.