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'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of a teacher at a Maryland juvenile detention center was the result of "multiple systemic security failures," including outdated buildings and not enough security cameras and radios for staff, as well as a failure of the state agency overseeing the center to address safety issues,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 “Some responsibility for her death must be placed on Cheltenham’s outdated buildings and a compromised security culture.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

By Washington Post Editors  | October 7, 2010; 8:34 AM ET
Categories:  Juvenile Justice, Pr. George's, Updates  
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Next: Explosives found in Dist. Heights home


You have no idea how bad it is at DJS facilities and programs. This could have happened at any of them.

Posted by: gth1 | October 7, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

"direct care staff"?

Now, there's a euphemism.

With murderous 13 year-olds and rules that handcuff staff more often than inmates, is it any wonder they have staff shortages?

Dead do-gooders don't exactly enhance recruiting. Perhaps adult facilities are more appropriate after all?

Posted by: confounded | October 7, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

The following goes without further comment:

Governor O'Malley, Secretary DeVore Announce Sucessful Exit of Consent Decree with United States Department of Justice
Hickey and Cheltenham Facilities 100% Compliant on CRIPA Settlement Agreement
ANNAPOLIS, MD (June 25, 2008) – Governor Martin O’Malley, joined by Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Donald DeVore, today announced that the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) successfully exited out of a three year consent decree with the United States Department of Justice regarding the Charles H. Hickey, Jr. School and Cheltenham Youth Facility, and is completely compliant on 56 separate provisions of the settlement agreement.
“I am proud to announce that these facilities are 100 percent compliant with the CRIPA standards. This is a true turning point for the future of Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services to ensure that every child has the services and support necessary to succeed,” said Governor O’Malley.
On June 29, 2005, the State of Maryland entered into an agreement with the United States Department of Justice pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) regarding the conditions of confinement at the Charles Hickey, Jr. School and the Cheltenham Youth Facility. The areas covered included: Protection from Harm, Suicide Prevention, Mental Health, Special Education, Medical Care, Fire Safety and Quality Assurance. DJS reached compliance on the 56 separate provisions just days before the end of the three year settlement agreement. On May 17, 2007, Secretary DeVore voluntarily entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice for the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center and anticipates exiting that agreement in under two years.
“My staff worked exceptionally hard to improve services to our most vulnerable youth within our facilities and will continue to move forward with the same momentum to exit out of the agreement at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center,” said Secretary Donald DeVore.
The CRIPA federal monitors’ most recent report due for release on June 30, 2008, notes that the monitoring team received “outstanding cooperation” from DJS’ administration and staff. The team found the effort and diligence of the DJS leadership and the dedication and responsiveness of the DJS direct care staff to be critical to the successful completion of this settlement agreement.
“The Department of Juvenile Services has devoted significant effort to improving conditions for the youth at Cheltenham and Hickey. The behavioral health and educational enhancements are particularly noteworthy and will serve these youth well on their path to adulthood,” said Marlana Valdez, Director of the Maryland Attorney General’s Independent Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit.
For years, the Department of Juvenile Services was a struggling state agency, but last year, under Governor O’Malley’s and Secretary DeVore’s leadership, the Department began the long-needed refor

Posted by: Improperbostonian | October 7, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

'Security' at DJJ facilities is an ongoing joke! The staff are usually only slightly less sociopathic than the inmates.Your tax dollars 'at work',indeed!!

Posted by: 10bestfan | October 7, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Let's look at what is working! One good thing Donald Devore has done is to have paved the way for the big for-profit Nevada company, Rite Of Passage (ROP), to open a franchise in MD. ROP-Silver Oak Academy was opened to bring kids back to MD with difficult behavioral issues. According to JJMU head, Marlana Valdez, those youth sent out of state exhibited sexual aggression, pyromania, etc. Just look at last week's high school football box scores. ROP 40 - Hancock 0. Who'd a thought that you could mold a group like that into a winning team. Despite any possible future self interests & other failings to date, Devore was right-on when he said ROP was a good fit f/MD. While Sen. Bobbi Zirkin compared ROP's lobbying machine to that of cigarette companies & public utilities, he too must now be relieved to have ROP here in light of the regional flagship disaster at Cullen. Arizona is about to privatize it's whole state juvenile services system. Guess who, that's right, ROP & they'll do it for 2/3 of what AZ currently spends to operate this department. Oklahoma is also courting ROP at this time. Perhaps it is time for MD to allow this proven winner a bigger piece of the pie. Perhaps even the whole pie. ROP president, Ski Broman, has reiterated over & over again that running an academy profitably & rehabilitating its residents are not conflicting goals. Kids win, state wins & ROP wins!

Posted by: gilspenser | October 8, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

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