Violence, abusive treatment and staffing shortages continue to plague Maryland's largest facilities for juvenile offenders, according to a new independent report released yesterday.
The report is the second in two weeks by the state's office of the Independent Juvenile Justice Monitor that has uncovered serious and persistent problems in the way the state is treating troubled youth in its care.
Last week's review focused on the new, $60 million detention center in Baltimore, where monitors found an acute staff shortage that created conditions so dangerous that public defenders and ministers refused to enter the building to visit children held there.
Yesterday, the monitor released a quarterly report on conditions at 15 other state-run facilities. Among the most troubling findings were those at the Thomas J.S. Waxter Children's Center in Anne Arundel County, which houses girls aged 10 to 18 and where assaults have been occurring at a rate of nearly one a day.
The monitor found that one state official assigned to investigate reports of child abuse and other misconduct at the facility had resigned over the summer after being accused of having inappropriate contact with a girl at Waxter, the report said.
Investigators also learned that one Waxter resident who had been involved in 17 violent incidents there was permitted to use a curling iron and subsequently burned staff members and other girls before she could be restrained. Then, the report said, the girl was "placed in seclusion for 72 hours for apparent punishment, contrary [to state] policy."
Reached yesterday evening, the spokeswoman for the Department of Juvenile Services said the department was not prepared to issue a formal response. Within the report, however, the department responded to dozens of findings. On placement of the girl in solitary confinement, for instance, the department said: "We agree that seclusion should never be used as punishment and we do not use it as punishment. The young lady mentioned may have quieted down but she was still seen as presenting a threat to others."
Child advocates said yesterday that the report offers the latest evidence that little has been done to improve conditions at the state's juvenile facilities. Those fighting for reform gathered last week at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center to decry findings that included a report of one teenager tying a bedsheet to an upper-tier railing, knotting it around his neck and climbing over the side, leaving him hanging by his neck and left hand before being rescued by a lone staff member and other children standing nearby.
The reports echo earlier findings by federal inspectors at two of the state's older facilities -- the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County and the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore. The U.S. Department of Justice warned Maryland in April that those institutions had failed to meet even minimum constitutional standards and violated the civil rights of those housed there.
In the report issued yesterday, Cheltenham was among the few places where the monitor found signs of improvement. The report said the population of young men had been reduced and programming had increased.
But the report was not as kind to the state's performance at the Hickey school. There, investigators found that the number of assaults on staff members by youth residents rose by 300 percent this year, with the average number of assaults or incidents involving the use of force increasing to more than three a day in April.