Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is defending his juvenile justice reform efforts, saying that the state did the right thing in dismantling large residential programs for juvenile offenders, reports the Baltimore Sun. Government regulators and others have long criticized both places for their poor conditions and ineffective rehabilitation programs. “What we’ve done for decades has failed, and the numbers prove it,” Ehrlich said. He said it would be foolish to try to fix a “broken, dysfunctional system” that was based on an old model of large institutions that didn’t work.
One large school, named Hickey, is closing today. Juvenile judges, the Maryland public defender’s office, key legislators and advocates for children have criticized Ehrlich’s decision to close Hickey before alternative programs were developed in Maryland to handle those youths. More than 150 juvenile offenders who are supposed to be in rehabilitative programs are being held in jails while state officials try to find places to put them. “We all have believed for a long time that Hickey needs to be closed — the question is, where do you place these juvenile offenders?” said Del. Bobby A. Zirkin. “The governor’s answer is, unfortunately, to send them home. That’s a public safety problem.” Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said the Hickey closing poses public safety risks because youths who have committed serious crimes that may warrant secure confinement are now being sent home or to poorly supervised group homes or similar facilities.