Officials at the Cheltenham juvenile detention center in Prince George's County have boosted training for staff members after firing five workers and disciplining 25 others in recent months for abusing or neglecting boys under their care.
Those fired included four staff members facing criminal charges in the alleged beating of a youth at the center in November, officials said. The other 25 workers were reprimanded, suspended and in some cases demoted for various incidents over the past six months, said Jimmy Lewis, the acting superintendent.
The disciplinary actions, first reported in yesterday's Baltimore Sun, are part of an effort by state juvenile justice officials to increase accountability at the detention center, Lewis said. Last month, the Justice Department released a 51-page report that found that substantial civil rights violations had taken place at Cheltenham and another Maryland juvenile detention facility.
"You have to have an air of accountability at any facility when you are working with a detention population," Lewis said in an interview. "When deviations from the written policies occur, you have to take appropriate action."
The Justice Department report, compiled by the civil rights division, detailed violence and improper care at the Cheltenham Youth Facility and the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore.
The Justice Department report covers incidents dating to early 2002 in which staff members at the two facilities choked, punched, shoved and kicked juvenile detainees.
Lewis and LaWanda Edwards, spokeswoman for the state Department of Juvenile Services, said that along with the disciplinary action, officials are providing additional training for workers at the detention facilities.
Last month, Cheltenham workers met with representatives of the National Juvenile Detention Association to develop a training package for the detention center's staff members, Lewis said.
Edwards and Lewis said additional training is being provided on suicide prevention and the proper use of force.
"Use of force by itself is not against policy," Edwards said. "Especially when a kid is about to hurt himself or injure someone else. There are proper ways to restrain a child."
Collectively, the Hickey School and Cheltenham house more than 300 boys and men ages 12 to 20. Most of the detainees are assigned there while they await trial or placement in group homes or centers for drug, alcohol or psychiatric treatment.
Cheltenham is planning to hire 18 clinical workers to assess the mental health of detainees and determine whether they have substance abuse problems. There are currently 70 youth supervisors and a total of 196 employees, including cafeteria and maintenance staff, working in various shifts at the facility.
Officials said a dramatic decrease in the population at Cheltenham has made it more manageable, improving conditions.
Three years ago, Cheltenham had 300 detainees. Last year, it had 150. As of Thursday, there were 78, Edwards said.
Cheltenham's population was reduced when the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center opened in October. About 50 young offenders from Baltimore were transferred to the new facility, Lewis said.
Before the transfer, Baltimore teenagers would at times square off with detainees from Prince George's, Lewis said. Cheltenham also houses youths from Anne Arundel County and Southern Maryland.
"We have had some issues develop between youths from Baltimore and Prince George's County," Lewis said. "I don't have to worry about that rivalry anymore."
The transfer also allowed officials to shut down three of the seven dorm-style cottages at the sprawling facility, which is ringed by fencing topped with barbed wire.
The decrease in population has freed space for game rooms and reading rooms, Lewis said.