'Systemic' failures at Cheltenham: Report
The slaying of a teacher at a Maryland juvenile detention center was the result of "multiple systemic security failures," including outdated buildings and not enough security cameras and radios for staff, as well as a failure of the state agency overseeing the center to address safety issues, according to a report to be released Thursday.
Hannah Wheeling, 65, was found dead in February outside a cottage at the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George’s County. She had been beaten, sexually assaulted and choked. A boy detained at the center, then 13 years old, is charged as a juvenile with homicide and attempted rape. His name is not being released because he is a juvenile.
“Hannah Wheeling’s death was a tragic event resulting from multiple systemic security failures at Cheltenham,” according to the Maryland Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit report. “Some responsibility for her death must be placed on Cheltenham’s outdated buildings and a compromised security culture. Responsibility must also be placed on the departmental leadership that should have addressed these issues.”
The scathing 27-page special report cites confusing policies and protocols, scarcity of security equipment, staff shortages and fatigue among overworked staff as contributing to making Cheltenham “as a whole a dangerous environment” at the time of Wheeling’s death.
Donald DeVore, the department secretary, emphasized in a written response to the report that the agency “reacted quickly to this terrible incident, thoroughly investigating and moving swiftly to take steps to help ensure that nothing like it occurs again.”
DeVore noted that the department fired two staff members, demoted a high-level administrator, suspended a supervisor, suspended a program manager and reprimanded direct care staff.
“While there is always room to improve, we believe the department’s efforts have strengthened safety throughout Cheltenham and all of other facilities,” DeVore wrote. “Although we do not agree with several aspects of the report, we do appreciate JJMU’s overall approach and believe that your review can help us further improve conditions at the facility.”
Wheeling, an English teacher, was from Bel Air. She was reportedly last seen alive giving a test to the teen now accused of killing her.
The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services has made improvements at Cheltenham since Wheeling was killed, but the report stressed more are needed to ensure the safety of employees and residents. Additional surveillance cameras to cover public space, as well as radios and personal distress alarms for all staff members were mentioned as examples.
Teachers at Cheltenham frequently worked with individual youths without direct care staff supervision, in violation of the facility’s policy, the report said. It noted that the supervision policy was widely violated when teachers conducted such one-on-one sessions.
Cheltenham was also short on security staff, the report said. Perimeter security checks, including at the building outside the complex fence where Wheeling’s body was found, were not systematically documented, the report found.
“Leadership should have been well aware of these issues,” the report said.
The report also noted “chronic staffing shortages” at the facility, which have been documented since at least 2004, when the U.S. Department of Justice discussed them in the report of its initial investigation into civil rights violations at Cheltenham. After a lawsuit was filed under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, the state promised in a 2005 settlement agreement to properly staff Cheltenham.
In 2008, monitors required under the act found Cheltenham to have the minimum sufficient number of staff to operate the facility safely, though it recommended more staff. Cheltenham was then allowed to leave the act’s oversight.
The juvenile justice monitor examined staffing for the report and found that staff shortages were pervasive before Wheeling’s death and continued up until the writing of the report.
The monitor’s investigation also found that Cheltenham staff consistently reported that they continue to be overworked and fatigued. Teachers interviewed this summer reported that direct care staff sometimes fall asleep during class.
A March report by the Department of Juvenile Services’ office of the inspector general led to the firings of two Cheltenham staffers and the suspension of a third. A fourth was cited in the report for failing to follow procedures related to a set of keys to Murphy Cottage, where Wheeling was found outside. Staffers were aware that Wheeling had keys to the cottage with her, in violation of department policy.
DJS also demoted one management-level employee and suspended another in Wheeling’s death.
The Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation announced in August that it had cited the juvenile services department for its failure to adhere to safety standards in Wheeling’s death. DJS responded last month to the citation with a letter documenting corrective actions taken in response to the citation.
-- Associated Press
Washington Post Editors
| October 7, 2010; 8:34 AM ET
Categories: Juvenile Justice, Pr. George's, Updates
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