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Operations smooth out at juvenile center

August 30, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - This week marks the one-year point in the operation of the Western Maryland Children's Center.

Despite issues inherent with a new building and some violent incidents early this year, a state official and a center supervisor said it has been a smooth first year at the Roxbury Road facility.

Scott Appel, acting program administrator at the center, said the facility was cleared in July to operate at or close to the full capacity of 24 residents. The center had an average of 20 residents for the month of August, the highest tally since it opened, Appel said.

The center was approved to fill only 12 of its spaces prior to July, Appel said.

"I thought it might be a little more hectic, but it wasn't," Appel said of the increase. "We were anticipating that. We were waiting for the call."

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The $8 million center was built to house dangerous young offenders from the four westernmost counties in Maryland while they await their court dates. The facility is closer to home for the youths than the Alfred D. Noyes Children's Center in Rockville, Md., and more intensive than the holdover facility off Jonathan Street in Hagerstown, used since 1979.

However, certain efforts designed to make the center feel less like an institution became a safety liability.

Some of the toilets with white porcelain fixtures were broken by youths intending to create sharp, knife-like weapons, said Department of Juvenile Services Public Information Officer LaWanda Edwards.

Edwards said she previously had never heard of anyone doing that at any state facilities, and it prompted the department to move toward different bathroom fixtures to increase safety.

"You have to remember, they're here for a reason," she said.

Other problems with the building included an occasional lack of hot water in some portions of the building and an often-failing heating and air conditioning system. Appel said those problems have been fixed.

Edwards said one of the key positive attributes of the facility is that families can take active roles in rehabilitating their children.

However, there have been at least three juveniles who have come through the facility for a second time on new charges, Appel confirmed.

"There are some (staff members) that would take it personally, like they could have done more," Edwards said.

Edwards and Appel said education and substance abuse treatment programs are offered at the facility, but most juveniles are at the facility for fewer than 30 days. Appel said it is difficult to make a lasting impact in such a short time.

Appel said he sees the role of the center as more of a place for evaluation, so the facilities that will house the youths for a longer term can begin addressing their problems quickly and effectively.

"We try to do all the screening and see what needs are there," he said.

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