Ju­ve­nile Ser­vices chief vows change

Md. task force is study­ing re­forms af­ter crit­i­cism of strip-searches and shack­ling

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Erica L. Green erica.green@balt­sun.com

Mary­land Ju­ve­nile Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Sam Abed pledged Thurs­day to change his depart­ment’s poli­cies and move to limit the use of strip-searches and shack­les on young peo­ple held in state fa­cil­i­ties.

Abed, speak­ing at the first meeting of a task force study­ing the state’s treat­ment of ju­ve­niles, said his agency has iden­ti­fied sev­eral ways to limit shack­ling and strip-searches and asked that they be in­cluded in the panel’s for­mal rec­om­men­da­tions.

“I do think there needs to be change,” Abed told the 18-mem­ber panel, which in­cludes state law­mak­ers, ad­vo­cates for chil­dren, pub­lic de­fend­ers, union rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and cor­rec­tions and ju­ve­nile ser­vices staff mem­bers.

The depart­ment’s rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude lim­it­ing the use of shack­les when youths are trans­ported by staff for home vis­its and not strip-search­ing them af­ter at­tor­ney vis­its or ap­pear­ances in court.

Ju­ve­niles Ser­vices of­fi­cials out­lined some of the pro­pos­als in a re­port to the leg­is­la­ture in July. Abed said his depart­ment has re­vised poli­cies as re­cently as July to limit the use of shack­les in med­i­cal emer­gen­cies af­ter a girl was taken to a hos­pi­tal in shack­les when she suf­fered a mis­car­riage.

The task force is sched­uled to meet through Novem­ber, vote on pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions and pre­sent them to Gov. Larry Ho­gan and the leg­is­la­ture for con­sid­er­a­tion in De­cem­ber.

The re­view panel was es­tab­lished through a bill filed in the last Gen­eral As­sem­bly ses­sion that sought to limit the depart­ment’s use of strip-searches and shack­les.

The Bal­ti­more Sun re­ported in March that the depart­ment rou­tinely strip-searches and shack­les the youths in its care. The youths range in age from 11 to 20.

The depart­ment has ar­gued that the prac­tices are nec­es­sary to main­tain safety and se­cu­rity in its 14 fa­cil­i­ties. Ad­vo­cates for chil­dren and med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als have said that the prac­tices are in­hu­mane, have been used in­dis­crim­i­nately and in some in­stances vi­o­lated con­sti­tu­tional rights.

In a tense mo­ment Thurs­day, Mary­land’s chief pub­lic de­fender, Paul DeWolfe, grilled Abed on whether his depart­ment’s phi­los­o­phy aligned with that of the Mary­land Ju­di­ciary, which adopted a res­o­lu­tion last year that dis­cour­ages the shack­ling of ju­ve­niles in court.

The res­o­lu­tion stated that shack­ling youth un­der­mined the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive in­tent of the ju­ve­nile sys­tem and the youths’ con­sti­tu­tional rights, and fur­ther trau­ma­tized a vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion.

DeWolfe said the res­o­lu­tion was a “gamechanger with re­gard to the dig­nity of our chil­dren.”

Abed said the depart­ment has fol­lowed judges’ orders to un­shackle ju­ve­niles in their court­rooms. He also de­fended the depart­ment’s treat­ment of chil­dren. “I, and this depart­ment, re­spect the dig­nity of kids,” he said. “We also have to bal­ance the safety of the fa­cil­i­ties, which is dif­fer­ent than a court­room.”

Denise Hen­der­son, who rep­re­sents the union for depart­ment staff mem­bers on the task force, said driv­ing youths in trans­port vans poses chal­lenges. She said a youth she was trans­port­ing kicked the back of a van open on the high­way and she was un­able to pull over. “It’s a se­ri­ous safety is­sue,” she said.

Nick Moroney, head of the state’s Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice Mon­i­tor­ing Unit, pointed out that the depart­ment’s poli­cies on us­ing re­straints inside its fa­cil­i­ties al­low dis­cre­tion. For years, the mon­i­tor­ing unit has rec­om­mended that the depart­ment re­strain only ju­ve­niles who pose a safety risk to them­selves or oth­ers.

In its most re­cent re­port, mon­i­tors and the depart­ment agreed on two in­stances in which girls were re­strained im­prop­erly and in which staff might not have ex­er­cised proper dis­cre­tion.

At the Thomas J.S. Wax­ter Chil­dren’s Cen­ter, a max­i­mum-se­cu­rity fa­cil­ity in Lau­rel, a preg­nant girl re­ported one night that she was bleed­ing heav­ily and be­lieved she was hav­ing a mis­car­riage.

Two nurses dis­agreed on whether the girl should be taken to a hos­pi­tal and said they had to call a su­per­vi­sor. Twenty min­utes later, both nurses and a di­rect-care staff mem­ber saw a fe­tus in the toi­let. Even then, a nurse de­nied pleas for the girl to be taken to a hos­pi­tal.

Ninety min­utes later, the nurses called 911. When medics ar­rived, they pre­pared the girl for trans­port to the hos­pi­tal with hand­cuffs and shack­les.

Depart­ment pol­icy ex­empts some who are preg­nant from shack­ling, but staff mem­bers said they did not ap­ply to the girl be­cause she was no longer preg­nant.

The depart­ment agreed that re­straints were not nec­es­sary in that in­stance and said it had elim­i­nated the re­quire­ment for re­straints in med­i­cal sit­u­a­tions un­less needed for the safety of the youth or oth­ers.

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