When the state of Maryland assumed control of its sprawling Charles H. Hickey Jr. School from a private contractor last month, it found an out-of-control wreck of a juvenile detention center where housing units reeked of urine, graffiti covered walls, and locks didn’t work on the doors of the rooms of potentially dangerous offenders, reports the Baltimore Sun.
Conditions at the facility in Baltimore County were even worse under the management of Correctional Services Corp./Youth Services International than previously disclosed, an investigation by The Sun has found. Malfunctioning motion sensors couldn’t detect escapes. One dormitory was in such bad shape that it had to be shut down. Youths with not enough to do were stashing scissors and pens for weapons. Dozens of the adults in charge had criminal or drug-abuse histories that should have prevented them from working at the facility.
State Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. says he hadn’t realized how bad things were until the Florida-based company left. “We were shocked and surprised,” Montague told the Sun. The state had been paying the contractor about $16 million a year to run Hickey, home to about 185 boys, including some of Maryland’s most troubled and violent juvenile lawbreakers. The company was getting at least $60,000 for each youth per year – several times the cost of tuition at an elite private high school.
Montague said the state knew about some of the problems but that “a lot of it was not visible, was not something you could see physically. The sensors on the security fence weren’t working. The phone system wouldn’t support enough lines.” He said that the company left virtually no accounting of how and when millions of dollars in state money was spent. “There was no budget,” Montague said.
A child advocate says it was the state’s responsibility to know how bad conditions had become. The state must ultimately be held accountable for Hickey’s failings, even though it was managed by a private company, said Bart Lubow of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which aids disadvantaged children. “If you’re going to go the private route, you have to monitor,” Lubow said. “The state had a contractual obligation to oversee the contract with these folks. The fact that you contract something out doesn’t mean you wash your hands of responsibility.”