From Today’s Baltimore Sun: New Leadership Needed

O’Malley promised to reform juvenile services, but the department is in chaos

By Anthony J. O’Donnell

In May 2005, then-Mayor Martin O’Malley announced a 10-point plan to reform Maryland’s juvenile justice system. He told Marylanders that “the community deserves juvenile justice that is responsive, effective and accountable to the public.” Now, more than four years later and almost three years into his term as governor, the juvenile justice system in Maryland remains, as it was described in the O’Malley transition report, dangerously dysfunctional.

Two years ago, Mr. O’Malley appointed Connecticut’s juvenile justice director, Donald W. DeVore, to head Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services. According to The Baltimore Sun, when Mr. DeVore was in Connecticut, he was the subject of a petition signed by more than 250 state employees urging Gov. M. Jodi Rell to ask for his resignation. The petitioners said Mr. DeVore “had worsened a situation of ‘corruption and neglect’ through a lack of programmatic and clinical direction for the care of troubled youth.” Since Mr. DeVore’s arrival in Maryland, there is little evidence of improvement to the system under his leadership.

In January 2008, when Mr. O’Malley announced an initiative to use GPS monitoring on juvenile offenders, he told The Sun that the technology was designed, in part, to keep the offender from “becoming another fatality on our state’s streets.” Secretary DeVore said of the technology, “it’s an almost instant real-time notification if there’s any violations that occur.” This month, a violent juvenile offender who was released from a secure detention facility and monitored with a GPS tracking unit was charged in the shooting of a 5-year-old girl and a man. The GPS unit was apparently still attached to his ankle at the time of his arrest.

Last week, news coverage highlighted the untenable situation at the Victor Cullen Center, a facility that has seen three escapes in two years; the most recent resulted in injuries to several staff members. These incidents are part of a tragic and continuing chronicle of failure on the part of the O’Malley administration to effectively serve both the troubled youth of the system and the citizens of Maryland who depend on the system for safety.

Less than a year ago, three violent offenders – including an accused carjacker – escaped from the Cheltenham Youth facility and were at large for days before the community was notified of the escape and the ensuing danger to the public. The only way the community learned of the danger was through persistent questions raised by the media. At that time, the House Republican Caucus questioned the administration’s failure to appropriately reform the system and to ensure public safety. Now, as minority leader, I will do so again.

Reports issued by the Maryland attorney general’s independent Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit have continued to raise concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the system. The Department of Juvenile Services falls far short of the vision and plan that Mr. O’Malley campaigned on. His election-year promises of accountability, transparency and action ring hollow.

The recent incidents have made the O’Malley administration’s failures in the juvenile system impossible to ignore, even for the governor’s allies in the legislature. Legislative hearings are to be convened in the near future to discuss reform of the juvenile justice system – an example of leadership on an issue that is the responsibility of the executive branch falling to the legislature instead.

The youths served by the Maryland juvenile justice system deserve the best efforts of their communities, the Department of Juvenile Services and the governor to give them appropriate treatment and support to reform and return to become mature, contributing members of society. The citizens of Maryland deserve the best efforts of the governor to ensure their safety and security. Governor O’Malley must make good on his campaign promises. Whatever Secretary DeVore’s expertise and reputation, the evidence shows that he is not the man to deliver the reforms that Mr. O’Malley promises.

The Department of Juvenile Services is in chaos and requires a complete overhaul, starting at the top. The administration’s actions in this regard should be shared with the public so we can gain some confidence that this problem is being acknowledged and acted upon. It is time for executive leadership and tough decisions at DJS. Our state deserves no less.

Anthony J. O’Donnell, a Republican, is the minority leader of the Maryland House of Delegates.

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