The Sun, December 11, 1999
Panel finds brutality widespread at camps--Pattern of violence by guards is beyond doubt, panel decides; Governor halts admissions; Baltimore judge orders all of city's juveniles transferred
By Todd Richissin and Tomas W. Waldron, Sun staff
In a double-barreled blast of condemnation for Maryland's juvenile boot camps, a task force appointed by the governor concluded yesterday that state guards have unquestionably and repeatedly assaulted delinquents, and a Baltimore judge with "grave concern" ordered all the city's youth moved from the facilities.
Last night, Gov. Parris N. Glendening ordered independent monitors stationed at the three camps to protect the 67 delinquents who remain there. He also put a freeze on new admissions to the camps.
In the governor's Baltimore office, the juvenile task force spent less than an hour reviewing files from the state Department of Juvenile Justice yesterday before voting unanimously that evidence showed a pattern of abuse of teen-agers that began at least a year ago.
Only blocks away, in the courtroom of Baltimore City Court Judge Martin P. Welch, teens dressed in fatigues testified that the beatings have not ended. Brought from the camps in Garrett County, they told Welch that guards gouged their eyes for leaving food on their plates and slammed their heads into the ground for talking out of turn.
The task force's conclusions and the judge's order were near-crippling blows for the boot camps, which have been under public scrutiny since Sunday, when The Sun began a four-part series that described assaults by guards against delinquents at one of the camps.
"My call is that the boot camps' credibility is shot. I don't know if we can ever regain that," Donald Carter, superintendent of the boot camps, told the task force during its hearing yesterday.
"There's not going to be anything left by Monday or Tuesday."
More delinquents could be moved out of the camps as soon as room can be found for them elsewhere. In recent days, Maryland State Police investigators joined Garrett County social services officials to interview more than 100 boot camp cadets and 90 guards.
The investigators plan to interview more than 500 cadets who have gone through the program, looking for evidence of child abuse.
Based on complaints from some of those interviewed, boot camp officials said yesterday that they have removed 14 guards from the camps and assigned them to administrative duties in which they will have no contact with juveniles.
The juvenile justice agency, which runs the camps, dashed to create bed space for 34 delinquents removed from the camps by the Baltimore judge, three by a second judge in Howard County, four others by social workers and one who was removed at the request of a parent, who read the series of articles.
Most of those moved from the boot camps were sent to the Victor Cullen Youth Academy in Frederick County. Last night, 18 of them were told they would have to sleep on the floor there.
Yesterday's actions were a harsh slap at Gilberto de Jesus, the juvenile justice agency's secretary, who is to testify before the task force today.
After the Sun series earlier this week, de Jesus maintained that any abuses were isolated incidents. He said he had put a stop to any assaults in August, after the newspaper began raising questions about guards routinely slamming delinquents to the ground, punching them and kicking them.
He was not at the task force meeting yesterday, not at the courthouse and not available for comment, said his spokesman, Bob Kannenberg.
"We're admitting we strayed from some of these policies," he said. "We didn't know the extent of how bad it was."
Neither the governor nor Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend -- who has frequently held up the boot camps as a key to defeating juvenile crime -- would be interviewed last night.
Yesterday, the task force examined more than a dozen reports of physical abuse on delinquents dating to late last year, including several incidents detailed in The Sun.
Cadets, as the delinquents are known at the camps, continue to report being abused as recently as this week, according to testimony from them before Judge Welch yesterday.
"There is a pattern," said Bishop L. Robinson, the former state secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, who is leading the task force. "We can document that pattern through this list of complaints received by staff."
In a typical report, a 17-year-old cadet from Anne Arundel County described to a counselor what happened when he stopped doing physical training one day in late November at one of the camps, the Meadow Mountain Leadership Challenge.
A guard "threw me to the ground and was twisting my thumbs behind my back and he held me face down on the ground with his knee in my back," the youth told the counselor. "I could not breathe because he was choking me around my neck."
Jeff Graham, assistant superintendent of the boot camps, disputed some of the reports of physical abuse presented to the task force and defended the boot camp's overall approach. But he acknowledged problems with a small number of guards, two of whom were removed.
"I don't deny there are major problems there," Graham said. "My overall assessment is we have had some officers who have obviously demonstrated criminal-type behavior."
In several cases, cadets who had complained of abuse to social service workers and others later recanted, as did witnesses.
Robinson and other task force members said they were not surprised, given the control the boot camp guards had over the cadets.
"This fear of intimidation is quite evident," Robinson said.
Joan McEntyre, the department's inspector general, said she faced resistant staff at one of the camps when she made a surprise visit there in April to interview cadets after receiving abuse reports.
"I felt very uncomfortable there. The atmosphere was not friendly," McEntyre said. "The kids asked me not to tell that they had made a complaint."
One guard was fired and another transferred after McEntyre informed juvenile justice officials of her findings, a department spokesman said.
Jack Nadol, deputy secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, told the panel yesterday that he was "shocked" by testimony from boot camp cadets he heard testify to Welch earlier in the day.
"I want to tell you as candidly as I can, that testimony shocked me," Nadol said. "Even if I only believe 20 percent of what has been said, people are being abused."
Nadol, who helped create the boot camp program, said the reports of abuse showed that department officials had not kept close enough watch over guards who were taking advantage of their power.
"What happened is what we were told could happen," Nadol said, referring to physical abuse by guards. "And we didn't watch it closely enough. It seems to me it has happened."
Nadol, though, said he would work to try to salvage the boot camps.
"I hate to admit that something that started out good mutated," Nadol said. "Somehow it happened without us realizing it."
In the courthouse, Welch reviewed the cases of five delinquents. Four of the five said they did not want to return to the camps, and three of the five asked that a camp guard who was in the courtroom be excused before they testified.
One delinquent said he was beaten several times, including once in a bathroom by three guards, since his arrival Nov. 29 at the Savage Leadership Challenge. One day at dinner, he said, "The [guard] jumped over a couple of tables and pushed my head into the wall."
In Howard County yesterday, Domestic Relations Master Nancy L. Haslinger said she became angry after reading the first article in the Sun series and Monday morning, "ranting and raving," decided to pull one teen-ager from the Savage camp and two from another camp, the Backbone Leadership Challenge.
"Apparently, the people who run these camps think that what is lacking in these kids' lives are beatings and violence," she said. "But they get plenty of that out on the streets.
"What is lacking in their lives is drug treatment, psychological counseling and job training."
Meanwhile, a major study released yesterday on violence in the United States called for an end to juvenile boot camps, saying their "failure has been documented well in studies."
The study by the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation -- a nonprofit Washington group -- followed up a report 30 years ago by the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence.
"We should look at scientific evaluations over the last 30 years since the violence commission and stop doing what's not working, start doing what is," Lynn A. Curtis, president of the foundation and an author of the report, said yesterday. "Boot camps aren't working."
Sun staff writers Howard Libit and Kris Antonelli contributed to this article.