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Higher security recommended for juvenile facilities

ANNAPOLIS — Poor supervision, miscommunication among staff members and lax security policies created the opportunity for two male residents to briefly escape from a Baltimore juvenile detention center in September, according to a report released last week.

The report, issued by the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, which evaluates facilities under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Juvenile Services, recommends that all department employees be retrained on security policies and be equipped with radios and distress alarms. The report also recommends that youths be transported only in secure vehicles.

On Sept. 7, staff members at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School left two males, 15 and 17, with a cook and a server to help clean the dining hall after dinner, in violation of a DJS policy that staff members maintain constant sight and sound supervision of the youth. According to the report both teens had previously escaped from facilities.

When the cook was driving the two males from the dining hall to their residential facility, the 17-year-old began punching him in the face, according to the report.

“It is hard to understand why these two youths were transported in a vehicle that did not have a barrier between the driver and the youths, why the cook who was driving the truck had no back-up from direct care staff, and why the youths were not placed in handcuffs,” the report states.

The youths commandeered the truck and crashed through Hickey security gates after the cook was not able to grab the keys before jumping out of the truck. The cook ran to alert security, as he had no radio or other mechanism to reach Hickey’s staff.

Before police arrested the two youths about a half-hour after the escape, the truck damaged four vehicles and several mailboxes. A Hickey employee was injured after the truck hit his vehicle, the report states.

The 15-year-old was transferred to a different juvenile facility after the escape to be charged as a juvenile. The 17-year-old was transferred to an adult facility to be charged as an adult.

This was the second escape from Hickey this year.

In its response to the report, the Department of Juvenile Services states that the recommendations from the report “have been resolved through intensive re-training, policy enhancements and stronger oversight.”

The department wrote that it retrained staff members on supervision policies, increased security posts and installed razor wire on the facility’s fence. The department did not address the recommendation to supply staff members with improved security equipment.

When the report on the February rape and murder of a teacher at the Cheltenham Youth Facility also recommended better security equipment for the staff, the department said funding was unavailable.

For example, Cheltenham has a fence security system with sensors, but fence cameras cannot be installed until “the budget allows,” according to the October report.

But an audit of the department released in October revealed 14 findings of deficiencies, including failure to apply for $3 million in available Medicaid funding.

The incidents at Hickey and Cheltenham follow a pattern of general mismanagement at residential facilities, said Matthew Joseph, executive director of Advocates of Children and Youth.

“The state is not reaching a level that it can guarantee basic public safety,” Joseph said. “It’s a pretty low bar that the state is failing to meet on juvenile services right now.”

A spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Services could not be reached for comment.