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Delinquents paid for pain at boot camp

April 02, 2002|BY TIM ROWLAND

Remember kids, crime doesn't pay. Except in the state of Maryland, where justice officials have agreed to pay 900 former juvenile delinquents $4 million to compensate for the fact they were routinely beaten up at Western Maryland "boot camps."

The boot camps were supposed to reform the kids by instilling them with discipline, work ethics and hard physical challenges. Hard physical poundings were not supposed to be part of the formula, but apparently guards in the Allegany County camps had their own ideas about reform, and some of the kids ended up with broken teeth and bones.

If you have ever had a kid vandalize your car, you can be excused for suffering some sort of disconnect as to why giving a boy's noggin a floggin' is a bad thing. Suffice to say that somewhere along the line our criminal justice system lost its way and it is no longer acceptable to punish an inmate with anything harsher than the BET channel.

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Criminals expect to be roughed up a bit - an inmate in another state once told me he's been taken for what the policing agency called "a ride in the country," where he was seated in the back seat of a cruiser between two officers and worked on with a nightstick. I asked why he didn't file a complaint, and he explained that he asked for it by being uncooperative and anyway, "it ain't nothin' but a thang."

But when bones start breaking and teeth start chipping, all but the coldest of people (like, for example, me) would agree that justice has crossed the line into barbarism.

Once this unacceptable behavior was exposed by The (Baltimore) Sun, boot camp turned into loot camp for the kids, some of whom will receive $100,000 and a free education.

Think about that next time you pay your tax bill.

Not only do you get the benefit of having them paint "Metallica Rules" on your privacy fence, you get to pay them for the honor.

It may be of some comfort to know that many of these boot camp "graduates" will have trouble spending the money, since after their education in juvenile hall, they went on to enroll in an adult prison.

How's that? Not only did we break their bones and teeth, but it didn't work. Pounding the living daylights out of a child does not keep him from entering a life of crime. Who would have guessed?

I understand the frustration, because kids today are into a little heavier forms of criminal activity than we as kids ever imagined. When "skills" are defined as being able to stab another kid without ruining the jacket you're trying to steal, it makes me think we've missed some finer points of parenting. Not only has God been taken out of the classroom, he's been replaced with armed, undercover DEA agents.

Our taxes pay to catch them so we can beat them up, pay to beat them up, pay to apologize for beating them up, pay to catch them again because they didn't learn anything from our beating them up and pay to house them for the rest of their lives in closed quarters where they pass the time beating each other up. Very smart.

This is going to be what the Sun mildly calls a "political liability" to Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, appointed by Gov. Parris Glendening to oversee juvenile justice issues. Her spokesman told the Sun of the scholarship-including settlement, "We're encouraged by the emphasis on education. We think now it's time to move on."

Moving on might be a good thing. Offering these kids four-year scholarships is a nice thought, but it strikes me as being like offering a Kansan a set of downhill skis. Poor kids. Their lot in life seems to have been cast years ago in broken homes and diseased and drug-filled city neighborhoods. Did they ever have a chance?

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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