Showing posts with label Blog Carnivals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blog Carnivals. Show all posts

Saturday, March 24, 2007

20070324 More questions than answers persist about Bowling Brook

“There are more questions than answers remaining about Maryland’s Juvenile Services”

March 24, 2007 by Kevin Dayhoff (693 words)

Thursday March 8, Bowling Brook Preparatory School in Carroll County closed in the wake of the death of Isaiah Simmons at the elite private juvenile services facility on January 23. Almost two months after his death, there remain more questions than answers.

It was an ignoble end for a storied highly touted facility of fifty years in an otherwise discredited juvenile services system in Maryland. Since it closed, many have rallied for it to reopen.

Mr. Simmons died while being physically restrained after it is alleged that he threatened another student. In a January 27 Bowling Brook press release it was revealed, “When Isaiah became threatening, our staff responded for his safety and the safety of others… (H)e was restrained humanely consistent with state-approved discipline policies and counseled throughout to de-escalate the crisis.”

A transcript of the 911 tape reveals a Bowling Brook employee saying, “It was the same thing we do all the time when we have an aggressive kid. I don't know what happened. He was in a restraint, and then he stopped responding.”

This tragic death is horrible but nevertheless situational – not systemic. Carroll County deputy state's attorney, David Daggett, has been quoted in published accounts to say “… it seems that clear(ly) no one intended to kill Simmons…”

As the number of juvenile offenders has exploded in recent years, Maryland has struggled to address the challenges of how to rehabilitate the young men into productive citizens.

In the face of a federal lawsuit and the outcry of juvenile advocates, facilities such as the widely discredited Charles H. Hickey Jr. School were closed as recently as June 30, 2005.

However this only exacerbated the Maryland juvenile services capacity problems. One answer was to put increasing numbers of the juveniles in Bowling Brook – a “highly touted private residential treatment facility for aggressively adjudicated young men” according to the 2004 – 2005 annual report of the Office of the Independent Juvenile Justice Monitor. The state poured $737,000 into capital improvements for the facility which housed 170 students.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s answer to the crisis in juvenile services was to close Bowling Brook and announce in his supplemental budget, $6.8 million to re-open Victor Cullen just several miles from Bowling Brook; for only 48 students. That discredited facility has remained “temporarily” closed since April 2002 due to budget constraints. Where did Governor O’Malley suddenly find $6.8M?

At a time when Maryland continues to face a structural deficit, it has been reported, “The cost of the nonprofit (Bowling Brook) school is $41,000 a year per student – less than the $65,000 a year the state spends to keep a youth at Hickey.”

Why have folks, who once praised the facility, quickly change their tune and sing that Bowling Brook was a victim of its own success and had grown too large?

If the “successful” Bowling Brook School grew too large, then doesn’t it seem more effective public policy to reduce the number of students at Bowling Brook rather than close it?

Why did the Maryland General Assembly overwhelmingly pass House Bill 1148 and Senate Bill 503 in 2005 exempting Bowling Brook from 2004 legislation mandating a capacity limit of 48 for juvenile facilities?

Governor O’Malley’s “Transition Committee for Juvenile Services Report,” issued on February 21, 2007 “strongly recommend(ed) that the new administration proceed quickly with making strategic, evidence-based reforms … addressing problems proactively.”

Is closing the highly acclaimed Bowling Brook, within days of the issuance of the report, “addressing problems proactively” with “strategic, evidence-based reforms?” Exactly why did Mr. Simmons die while being “restrained humanely consistent with state-approved discipline policies?” Why not address that problem proactively?

How are juvenile facilities to appropriately restrain a juvenile offender who is physically threatening other students? Do the state-approved discipline policies for restraint need to be changed with “evidence-based reform” to avoid another tragedy? Why not spend some of the newly minted $6.8M for additional study to change the standards and provide additional training.

How often does a community rally to have a juvenile facility in their own back yard? Many hope that Governor O’Malley will address the challenges of Maryland’s juvenile services with evidence-based reform by re-opening Bowling Brook.

Kevin Dayhoff

The writer is the former mayor of Westminster 2001-2005.

His e-mail address is


Sunday, March 25th, 2007 UPDATE: I’m certainly encouraged by the thoughtful and responsible feedback I have received on this post in “comments.”

(For more posts and information on “Soundtrack” please click on Bowling Brook.)

Please keep in mind that letters to editor are also very important in addition to letters to Governor O’Malley and Secretary DeVore.

Letters to the editor can be e-mailed to:

Mr. Jim Joyner, Editor

The Westminster Eagle

121 East Main Street

Westminster, MD 21157

(410) 386-0334 ext. 5004

I would love for The Westminster Eagle to have a page or several pages of letters to the editor …

Please pass the word. We need as many thoughtful, respectful, and polite letters as possible to go to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Maryland Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore.

I have assured many folks that the letters need not to be long or over-thought. Push comes to shove, a hand written note with several sentences expressing support is really all that is needed.

Whispers in the hallways of Annapolis are that the O’Malley administration is counting on the short attention span of folks and the Bowling Brook matter will blow away with the March winds. Obviously such is not the case. Perhaps folks have misjudged the positive impact of this facility - for fifty years - in our community.

The addresses once again:

The Honorable Governor Martin O’Malley

Office of the Governor

100 State Circle

Annapolis, MD 21401-1925

The Honorable Secretary Donald W. DeVore

Maryland Juvenile Services

One Center Plaza, 120 W. Fayette Street

Baltimore, MD 21201.

Thank you. There are many young adults that face an uncertain future as a result of being relocated from Bowling Brook to one of the failed state-run facilities. The quicker Bowling Brook is back in operation, the quicker hope may be restored to the lives of many young men.