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State juvenile official hears local concerns

July 22, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

At the Western Maryland Children's Center, Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Kenneth C. Montague Jr. listened Friday as the juvenile detention center's staffers complained about overcrowding and shortstaffing at the Roxbury Road facility.

"There are things I see that can be done to relieve stress," Montague said after the nearly two-hour meeting. "The uses the court has for detention here are in the same category as a person who represents a danger to the community."

Some staffers said they work with youths at the facility who they feel are unnecessarily detained there because they got in trouble for violating probation.

Montague, who also visited the department's Hagerstown office Friday, suggests that the demand for spots at the 24-bed facility can be reduced if the state's judges only use the facility for youth who need to be held for court appearances or who are a danger to themselves or others. He said that the referral process for placing juveniles at other centers has been refined, and he does not think overcrowding is related to the closure last year of the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, which was the department's most secure residential facility for delinquents.

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He said a replacement for Hickey is "on its way," but could provide no time frame.

"We have to rethink in the state of Maryland the job that we do," Montague told the group of about 30 staffers before they asked questions. "Over the course of the next several months, we're going to institute new and sophisticated training for our staff."

The department, which has 2,300 children under its care, will begin to offer training on how to reinforce positive behavior displayed by their youths.

Staff questioned when they would receive more training and more staff. Montague could not give a definite time frame, but said that those issues are "on the table."

He agreed that it takes too long to hire replacements for staff. He said he has proposals "on the table now" that would lower the age for retirement and increase incentives for retention.

Montague, who was appointed secretary by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., assured staffers that his proposed programs will continue through the election, and will not fall to the wayside if someone else is elected.

"I'm happy that he came and was open to us," Elizabeth Hill, case manager at the facility, said after the meeting. "It doesn't mean that the ideas will be followed through with. How do we know it's going to be carried on. Everything, ultimately, could change."

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