The furor over the treatment of young people in Maryland's boot camps has caused citizens of the Free State to have grave doubts about their juvenile justice system [Metro, Dec. 18].

In front of reporters for the Baltimore Sun, juvenile justice staff abused their charges, slamming them to the ground for not answering quickly or loudly enough, pushing their faces into their food for not finishing their vegetables and generally humiliating them. The governor and lieutenant governor acted rightly by firing five top officials in the Department of Juvenile Justice, but those firings will not be enough.

As recently as October, I toured the Cheltenham Youth Detention Center with a group of citizens and politicians. The 19th-century facility was overcrowded, with one cottage built for 26 youths holding 101 kids the night before we visited. The tension in the facility was palpable, as many of those on the tour were told about beatings the youth had suffered from staff, or about the youths' having to urinate in their cells when staff did not allow them out to use the bathrooms.

Ironically, the facility was on its best behavior. The walls were freshly painted, and youths told us they had just been issued new clothing. New books adorned the library, although none was to be found in the youths' rooms because, as one staff noted without irony, "Books are contraband." The fear now is that the changes in response to the boot camp scandal likewise will be window-dressing.

The problems with juvenile justice in Maryland predate the boot camp scandal and are broader and deeper than the firing of five staff. Maryland must now create a juvenile justice system that holds kids accountable but doesn't crush their chances for future success.



The writer is director of the Justice Policy Institute and a member of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition.