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Sarasota firm may lose contract to run Maryland detention center

Article published Jun 13, 2003
The Gainsville Sun

ANNAPOLIS, Md. Gov. Robert Ehrlich has asked attorneys to find out if the state can end a contract with a Sarasota, Fla., company that runs a juvenile detention center in Baltimore County.

Ehrlich wants to know if the state can place the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School under new management in the wake of a report that staff members hit, sexually abused and intentionally intoxicated children.

Correctional Services Corp., a subsidiary of Youth Services International, has a five-year contract to operate the Hickey School until March 31.

"All options are being looked at," Ehrlich said Thursday after seeing the report on the Hickey School by the state Office of the Independent Juvenile Justice Monitor.
Tom Rapone, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Correctional Services, said company officials are ready to meet with state Department of Juvenile Services representatives and attorneys to address issues raised by the report.

But he criticized the review for reaching "half-conclusions" - detailing problems without reporting how Correctional Services responded.

"The report should have covered the actual disposition of all those events," Rapone said.

For instance, after a former Hickey School student driving a staff member's car was involved in an accident in Baltimore, the employee was fired, Rapone said.

"In events where actions are wrong, charges are filed, people are terminated," Rapone said.

The report came less than a month after the monitor's office released a similar review of the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County. It blamed staff shortages and crowding for prompting a riot that caused state officials to lose control of the center for several hours in March.

The Justice Department has begun a civil-rights investigation into conditions at Hickey, Cheltenham and other juvenile detention facilities in Maryland. Investigators have visited Hickey and Cheltenham over the past three weeks.

The Hickey School's population of 265 boys, ages 12 to 18, experiences about 2.5 incidents a day of assault or use of force, the report stated. Since the beginning of the year, more than 20 cases of suspected child abuse or neglect have occurred. The report specifically noted the following:

- In January, a staff person grabbed a youth by the arm and threw him into a bathroom, where the boy hit a sink and hurt his back.

- In March, a boy was found locked in a room with a blood-alcohol level of 0.25, three times the state's legal limit for drunken driving.

- On three occasions in April, staff members beat youths in the Roosevelt Hall section of Hickey, forcing them to hold an electrical cord in the shower, allowing other youths to beat them, and preventing them from receiving medical care.

The incidents were discovered April 23 by a DelMarva mental health therapist. The agencies involved at Hickey - the Department of Juvenile Services, Maryland State Police and Child Protective Services - initiated investigations on April 30 and May 1, the report said.

Michele J. Hughes, assistant secretary of the Juvenile Services Department's office of professional responsibility and accountability, took issue with the Hickey report in a letter Wednesday.

Hughes told Ralph B. Thomas, executive director of the monitor's office, that the report "modified facts and failed to include relevant information."

"Our office takes our responsibilities at Hickey very seriously, so seriously that for the last month, we have assigned child advocates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week to the facility," Hughes wrote. She added that two full-time and one part-time investigator are on site at Hickey.

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