Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday he was disturbed by allegations of abuse and excessive force by guards at Maryland's boot camps for teenage offenders and ordered investigators to report back to him within a week on activities at the three facilities.
The investigation will include experts outside state government. The state Department of Human Resources also has launched a massive child abuse investigation, with plans to review the cases of the more than 920 youths who have been through the camps since they opened.
The inspector general's office of the Department of Juvenile Justice began an investigation in August after increased complaints of abuse at the camps, which are in Garrett County in Western Maryland. A guard at one of the camps was fired in September for what a department spokesman said was "excessive force and child abuse." He has been charged with two counts of assault.
While noting that the offenders at the camps are violent and "present a continuing danger" to citizens, "the state cannot and will not permit the physical abuse of anyone, juvenile or adult, in any of our facilities," Glendening (D) said in a statement with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), who oversees criminal justice issues.
Glendening's announcement followed stories in the Baltimore Sun over the past three days detailing hazing of young male offenders at the camp at Big Savage Mountain.
The stories included firsthand accounts of youths being pummeled and a photo of a young offender with a split lip. It described guards tackling the youths when they didn't respond to questions with adequate respect and guards jabbing their fingers in the offenders' heads as they screamed at them.
Secretary of Juvenile Justice Gilberto deJesus was not available for comment yesterday. But spokesman Bob Kannenberg said the newspaper's stories raised concerns.
He said that there had been sporadic complaints of excessive force since the first boot camps opened in 1996 and that as their "frequency increased," deJesus ordered the inspector general's investigation. It has been going on for more than three months because investigators are trying to interview many offenders who have graduated from the camps.
Jim McComb, chairman of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition, said yesterday that deJesus should lose his job for not adequately addressing the allegations and that the problems at the boot camps were a sign of much larger problems with the state's juvenile justice system. He called for a more comprehensive review of the system and said the problems are "not news to the governor or lieutenant governor."