Staff workers at two Maryland juvenile detention facilities were negligent and did not follow procedures, contributing to three security breaches -- two escapes and the rape of a nurse -- in one week last month, according to a state inspector general's report issued yesterday.
The report found that in the most recent escape, on July 1, staff members ignored the sound of someone banging on a door, which officials learned later was a diversion created by two boys to muffle their successful effort to break a window screen and escape.
After the youths were discovered missing, it took staff members 75 minutes to notify state police, and when one of the youth's relatives reported he had returned home, staff members never gave police the information, the report said.
The report was released at a legislative hearing into the incidents at the Victor Cullen Academy in Frederick County and the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School near Baltimore, both operated by a private contractor. At the hearing, the company acknowledged the lapses, outlined how the problems were being fixed, and reported that several staff members had been fired.
"We feel we should be responsible," said Jim Irving, a vice president for Correctional Services Corp., which owns Youth Services International, the private contractor. The company has agreed to pay the state damages for allowing the escapes and pledged future payments if additional incidents occur.
The state owns the facilities, which are meant to provide education and counseling for the state's worst juvenile offenders but which do not have the security levels of a prison. Youth Services International has a $15 million annual contract to operate Hickey, which houses 355 youths, and an $11 million annual contract for Victor Cullen, which houses 225 youths.
State Juvenile Justice Secretary Gilberto de Jesus said that while inspections had found "lapses in staff patterns," Youth Services International was improving.
Del. Frank S. Turner (D-Howard) and other legislators, however, pressed de Jesus on whether the company was being responsive. "At some point, enough is enough," Turner told de Jesus. "I want to know, where's that point?"
De Jesus said that escapes had declined over the six years that Youth Services International has operated the facilities and that the company had improved. "They are acting in good faith to correct the problems that exist," he said.
On June 25, a nurse at Hickey was raped, allegedly by a youth in a work program at the school. A criminal investigation of the assault is underway. According to Youth Services International's report of the incident, also made public yesterday, "A lapse in staff vigilance and poor supervision resulted in the student being able to access the area where the staff member was working."
The suspect's staff supervisor was fired, and the company said "high risk" youths would receive additional training and supervision before participating in work details.
In the next incident, on June 27, three youths escaped from Victor Cullen by sneaking through a window, using a picnic table to climb a security fence and stealing a facility car. Two have been captured.
Two staff members were fired for not adequately supervising the youths, and the company said that picnic tables would be secured away from fences and that facility vehicles would be equipped with anti-theft devices.
The July 1 escape was from Hickey, and one of the two youths who broke a screen and slipped out a window has been apprehended.
Youth Services International said it was reinforcing the window screens, adding razor ribbon to perimeter fences and bringing in 11 new managers to train Hickey staff in security procedures.