'We don't have any place to put them'

Part 4 of a 4 part Series

The Baltimore Sun/December 8, 1999
By Todd Richissin

From: John Morrison

A year later, the former cadets leave a trail of drug deals, gunplay, addiction. Boot camp? That was someplace else, a long time ago.

Jimmy Phelps is a junkie, Michael Taylor's charged with attempted murder, Kevin McManus with driving a stolen car, Roland "Reno" Scott with selling crack. They have at least two things in common:

They've committed their latest crimes after graduating from the Savage Leadership Challenge, a state boot camp for juvenile delinquents in the woods of Garrett County, and every one of them has escaped penalty from Maryland's Juvenile Justice Department for not reporting to his probation officers and drug rehab classes.

Already, the fear they'd enter adult prisons is being realized.

In April, 39 days after leaving the boot camp, Taylor's hands are cuffed at Central Booking in downtown Baltimore. Attempted first-degree murder, six other adult charges.

"The defendant approached the victim while riding a small bike," the police report says. "The defendant stated, 'Give it up!' while brandishing an automatic handgun. As the defendant is pursuing the victim, he discharges gunshots, striking the victim several times in the upper torso. The victim falls to the ground."

Maybe nothing could have prevented Taylor -- 15 years old, fatherless, son of a woman who lost him to crack -- from being charged with such a crime.

But when Taylor left the Savage camp, he was still considered by the state to be dependent on drugs and at high risk of committing another crime.

Nevertheless, he was able to drop his probation quicker than a junkie drops a rock of crack during a police chase, never getting counseling, never getting in trouble for it.

No consequences, that is, until he's charged with shooting a man four times. Now, he's heading to trial; the charges could mean 25 years. If he's convicted, taxpayers will pick up the tab, almost $25,000 for every year in prison.

That's how it works for many kids the state's juvenile justice system returns to the streets: They're enrolled in after-care programs but immediately revert to running free, refusing to see their probation officers, blowing off drug and alcohol abuse classes, skipping town altogether, playing juvenile justice workers like they've set the rules.

Then, only if they're caught committing another crime, they're thrown back into Maryland's juvenile system or moved to adult courts -- at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

A Sun reporter and photographer followed 14 kids sent to the state's Savage Leadership Challenge in October of last year. They became Charlie Squad and stayed 20 weeks at the camp, where guards sought to change them with punches, pokes and slams. Nine months after their graduation, only one of the 14 has complied with his probation. And he has never been tested for drug use.

Ten of the 14 have tested positive for drugs or have been observed using them.

Eleven have been locked up -- two of them twice, two of them three times. Together, these 11 have picked up 52 new charges as of last week. Three have been charged as adults.

Five of the 14 have been cited for violating parole, but none has been picked up for that charge. One kid, who has not attended rehab or seen his probation officer since his release, walks the streets of Southwest Baltimore free as ever, with no warrant for his arrest.

A kid named best overall cadet by the TACs is missing. Officials have no idea where he is.

'Jerked around'

Gilberto de Jesus, head of Maryland's Department of Juvenile Justice, says kids on probation are punished if they test positive for drugs or ignore rehab class and their probation officers. He says they can be sent for treatment or locked in such juvenile detention centers as the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School or the Cheltenham Youth Center.

"When we make a determination that we're being jerked around by the kids, then we violate them," de Jesus says, using the department's jargon for charging a kid with breaking probation.

In real life, these kids are almost never violated. That's because there simply is nowhere to lock them up, nowhere to treat them -- and even the kids know it.

Maryland's juvenile detention centers are overflowing. The Hickey School in Baltimore County is filled every day. Cheltenham, in Prince George's County, is so packed that kids sleep on the floors. Designed to hold 169 kids, it had 258 in October.

On most days, almost 200 kids in Maryland are locked up as they wait for mental health treatment or drug rehab programs, because these programs are swamped, too.

Another 150 juvenile delinquents -- who have been sentenced to detention centers or programs -- are back in their neighborhoods, waiting for the juvenile justice agency to find any place at all for them.

So mere probation violators can't get tossed back into the system, acknowledges Jack Nadol, the deputy secretary for the department: "The truth is, we don't have any place to put them."

'Wants to get high'

Phelps, one of seven Baltimore kids in Charlie Squad, stops seeing his probation officer after six visits, quits drug rehab even though drugs have led to so many of his problems.

Nobody tries to arrest him even after he misses 30 of 36 meetings.

Phelps -- who has huffed glue, sold drugs, snorted heroin, stolen cars -- is a classic candidate for close supervision, but he decides he doesn't want it, and the juvenile justice agency does nothing about it.

In April, a month after he graduates from Savage, he's in a Dunkin' Donuts on Wilkens Avenue. He and his 17-year-old sometime-girlfriend slip into the men's room and pull out a baggie full of heroin. It's his first time snorting since his release, and he remembers it vividly.

They spill it on the toilet tank and push the powder into lines. Phelps rolls a dollar tightly, puts one end to his nose, the other by the powder, and snorts as he moves the dollar forward, making a line disappear.

"This girl wants to get high, what am I supposed to do?"

A week later, he's shooting heroin into his arms, becoming a junkie.

By June 24, he's locked up -- not because he has violated probation, not because he has become a heroin addict desperate enough to use dirty needles.

He's locked up because he picks up another criminal charge: breaking into his grandmother's house, hoping to steal some jewelry he can hock to buy more dope.

Good thing for him he's caught.

He's down to 155 pounds from 185 in only a month. At Mountain Manor, a drug rehab center for juveniles in Baltimore, he waits for the results of an AIDS test to see what the needles may have done to him.

Maybe it's hepatitis B. Maybe it's AIDS. Maybe he's clean.


Researchers, doctors, juvenile justice experts and advocates for children agree: A kid like Phelps should not have been released from confinement and returned to Baltimore with almost no support.

But Vincent Schiraldi, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in Washington, says after-care just isn't a priority for the Maryland juvenile justice agency. Officials don't have the political will to make it one, he says.

"What needs to happen, when a kid comes back into the community, is you need to closely monitor him and immediately respond to his problems. That doesn't always have to result in a violation. But you don't just write it on a paper and wait for the next time."

De Jesus responds that his department is doing the best it can with what it has. After-care is lacking, he acknowledges, but only because he can't get more money.

The lack of after-care has been criticized for years, not just in Maryland, but in most states. It's always blamed on reluctant legislatures and thick bureaucracies. But in Maryland's case, internal memos and budget documents from state agencies shed light on why after-care is lacking while virtually everyone involved with delinquents agrees it's crucial.

The documents show that after-care programs have not been a priority for top officials at the juvenile justice agency. Staff recommendations seeking more money for such programs have been pared down by de Jesus and then rejected by Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration.

In addition, almost $1.5 million available to the department has not been used because of bungling at the agency. For example:

More than $119,000 from the Governor's Office on Crime Control & Prevention has sat idle since February while de Jesus' department has asked for extensions to begin using it. The money was to hire four after-care workers. Had the workers been hired on time, they would have been directly responsible for Taylor, Phelps and the other kids from Charlie Squad. Two were hired in October, after a Sun reporter questioned de Jesus about the delays.

An additional $690,000 set aside by the crime control office has gone untapped because the juvenile justice agency's grant applications were not completed. Crime control officials say they have met with de Jesus and his staff six times since July to guide him on the paperwork.

In August, Michael Sarbanes, executive director of the crime control office, wrote de Jesus about chronic delays in starting nine after-care programs that had been awarded another $629,000.

De Jesus blames these problems on program requirements imposed by the legislature. Also, he says, after receiving some of the grants, he decided the money would be wasted because the programs were ill-conceived. The programs were designed by his agency.

"Did we make mistakes?" he concludes. "Yes, we did. Are we fixing them? Yes."

'Too busy'

In the meantime, a kid like Darrell Shanklin, who has turned 17 and is one of the few from Charlie Squad with any kind of family, is able to dodge the system as he has for years. His mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, does her best with him; so does his grandmother, who has cancer.

But he has never had a father. His friends are his main influences. And he's not being tested for drugs, though he was considered at risk for drug use at the time of his graduation from the boot camp.

On paper, he's doing fine. After camp, the state paid a surgeon to fix his left eye, damaged long ago by a baseball bat. He hasn't picked up any new charges, as far as juvenile justice authorities know.

On the streets, he's not doing fine.

At a party at a friend's house in Prince George's County, he slices open a cigar, removes the tobacco, fills the skin with weed. A blunt. He loves them. Managed to stay away from it for two months after graduating from boot camp. Maybe a hit here or there, but not enough to get caught.

His mother doesn't know about the drugs. His grandmother doesn't know. Neither of them knows he's been taking their car in the middle of the night, while they sleep, his mother, Pamala, and his grandmother, Lucille, 63 years old and working two jobs.

His probation officer doesn't know about the drugs, either.

Since his release from Savage, Shanklin has faced one drug test. In September, the kid quits contacting his probation officer altogether.

"Too busy," he says.

On Sept. 16, his luck finally runs out. He and a friend grab an all-terrain three-wheeler, run it into a mailbox, cause some other damage. The cops cuff him.

His mother says she's giving up.

"I told him if I have to go to court, I'm turning him over to the state," she says. "There's no more I can do for him. I tried."

His grandmother is in tears. She has taken him to wrestling matches and to Atlantic City as rewards as he was growing up, has driven him to work, has done all she can to straighten him out. She's a schoolteacher but doesn't understand this kid.

"I deal with children every day. I can solve some of their problems, but I can't even solve my own. Some of these kids have nobody, their mothers and fathers are crackheads, but he has people who love him."

The kid, though, says he's tried to change. Just can't. He knows he's likely to be locked up again for this latest incident, wonders if he can get into the military to avoid it.

Maybe if he just told the judge what he's got going in his life.

His girlfriend, all of 15, is pregnant. He makes $5.25 an hour at a dry cleaner. He says he'll be able to help his girl with the baby, may even marry her when she turns 18.

And "this is just for now," he says. "I'm getting another job. I'm going somewhere they pay at least 7-something an hour."

'Ain't got nothing'

Phelps, the kid who became a heroin addict like his parents, walks to the clinic next to his room at Mountain Manor, a Southwest Baltimore rehab facility overlooking a cemetery. He's about to find out the result of his blood test. It's early September, six months after he graduated from boot camp.

He's got to know: Does he have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or doesn't he?

He walks and thinks.

"Who I've used with. Were they really telling me the truth about not having anything?"

He gets to the clinic. A nurse reaches into a file cabinet, pulls out his chart.

Weight back up to a healthy 185.

No hepatitis B.


Phelps pumps his fists in the air, claps his hands, has trouble keeping his feet on the ground and rushes to tell his friends.

"I ain't got nothing!"

In the context of Charlie Squad, this kid -- who went to probation meetings high, skipped his drug rehab, became a junkie, used dirty needles, shot up in an abandoned hellhole of a house, ripped off drug dealers, had unprotected sex with a prostitute, broke into his grandmother's home to steal her jewelry -- this kid is a victory on this day.

"I ain't got nothing!"

One week after leaving Mountain Manor, Phelps paces a Baltimore street corner like a skittish lion in a noisy cage. He scratches himself every second, the itching nearly unbearable, his nails digging hard enough to break his skin, his hands going to his nose, his neck, his back, everywhere, but he doesn't break stride.

"Nautica! I got the Nautica!"

It's a brand of heroin. He's shooting up again, financing his habit by dealing. He's covered in scabs because of this damn itching. He has chewed the skin off his right thumb.

He makes a sale to a man and a woman in a pickup truck that stops outside a bar. Two of his bosses watch to make sure he doesn't take off with the dope. The Nautica sells well.

Nobody from the Department of Juvenile Justice, which began treating Phelps just weeks earlier for a heroin addiction, checks on him. More than a month after he's been back pushing dirty needles into himself, department officials still say he's doing fine.

He no longer needs a fiend to put a needle in him. He goes to the woods and does it himself.

"I don't know what happened. I gotta get me some rehab."

Maybe tomorrow, he says.

'Welcome home'

Scott, the orphan who lost his parents to drugs and alcohol, is arrested after leaving the boot camp and let go twice. He is as hard-core as they come, loves to shoot the dice, deal the crack.

On Aug. 14, he's arrested again.

This time, things will be different, officials decide. No more messing around. This kid's no longer in charge. The Department of Juvenile Justice knows how to fix him.

Scott doesn't care much. Being locked up is part of the game. He'll do his time at Cheltenham, Hickey, see some old friends.

But before he knows it, he's being driven to Western Maryland.

He sees four guards in military pants, black T-shirts and black hats. They're pacing. They call themselves tactical officers, or TACs. Adrenalin is flowing, as if before a prize fight.

"Here comes the little punk!"

A white van turns the corner. A single kid sits behind the driver. He's wearing a T-shirt, jeans held up by a green Army belt, the one the Juvenile Justice Department gave him a year ago. Shackles bind his wrists and ankles.

The van lurches to a stop. A TAC yanks its door open, rushes onto the van, yelling as loudly as he can. Jerks the kid out.

The four large men surround the kid, yell at him, push, poke.

"Welcome home, son! You're back where you belong!"

"Didn't think you'd see us again, did you?"

"They're going to give your disgusting ass back to me!"

Scott will get 16 more weeks of this. He's joining a squad that's already begun its time at the Savage Leadership Challenge in the woods of Garrett County.

The TACs grab him, push him into a building.

Boom! A TAC wrestles the kid to the ground, lies on top of him, lets him up, leaves Scott to himself.

The kid looks around his cinder-block room, about 6 feet by 8 feet. He's in isolation for at least a day. There's a bed in the room, the window's caged, a single light bulb glows. The tile is cold, and so is Scott.

"Sixteen weeks?"

He smiles.

"That ain't nothin'."

Then he'll be back on the streets.

Maybe he'll go wrong, maybe he won't.

He'll be subjected to something Maryland's Department of Juvenile Justice calls "maximum supervised probation."

Other Parts to this Series:
Part 1 - Why are you crying? Answer: 'My life, sir'
Part 2 - On graduation day, an illusion of hope
Part 3 - A quick transition from 'Sir!' to 'Yo!'

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