Settlement reached in suit filed by boot camp inmates

Associated Press Newswires/March 29, 2002
By Tom Stuckey

Annapolis, MD -- The state has agreed to pay out about $4 million to settle lawsuits filed on behalf of young people at three western Maryland boot camps that were shut down two years ago because of abusive treatment of inmates by guards. Gov. Parris Glendening ordered the camps closed in December, 1999 after The (Baltimore) Sun reported that guards had routinely assaulted teens at the camps where young offenders were subjected to military-style training and discipline.

Two judges, Maryland State Police investigators and a task force appointed by the governor concluded that the assaults were widespread and dated to 1996, when the first camps opened.

John Coale, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, and Assistant Attorney General Maureen Dove said Thursday the settlement covers almost 900 inmates. "It's a good agreement" for the Department of Juvenile Services, Dove said. "It puts this whole matter behind them," she said. "This ... lets the department move forward."

Coale said the agreement creates a $2.1 million fund to pay tuition for colleges and trade schools for those former boot camp inmates who want to get an education. He estimated 20 to 25 percent of those eligible will take advantage of the education aid.

Ten people who suffered the worst injuries will each receive $100,000 in four equal annual payments. Fifty other people subjected to less severe treatment will receive a one-time payment of $15,000 each, Coale said.

Only 60 of the almost 900 former inmates sued before the statute of limitations expired. In addition to direct cash payments, they will be eligible for tuition assistance for up to two years of community college and two years at a four-year college. Those who did not sue will be eligible for up to $10,000 in tuition assistance at a community college or a trade school for two years.

Coale praised the state for offering educational assistance to those who did not file suit in time. "We felt the best thing to do was give these kids this opportunity," he said. Dove said Department of Juvenile Justice officials believe that "for those kids who take advantage of it, it really gives them a chance for a different kind of life."

The settlement does not require any further action by the state as far as management of juvenile facilities is concerned. "When we started the negotiating process, we wanted to change the juvenile system," Coale said.

He said the state made a good faith effort to improve juvenile facilities over the last two years. "The systemic changes are not in the settlement because they have already happened or the state is well on its way to doing it," Coale said.

He said he served as lead attorney for the class action suit without compensation. More than a dozen other lawyers who represented former inmates will divide $690,000 in money set aside for legal fees.

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