By KELSEY MILLER
ANNAPOLIS (April 4, 2012)—Conditions at the J. DeWeese Carter Children's Center, where girls committed to the Department of Juvenile Services were recently moved in order to improve treatment, have deteriorated significantly within the past month, said an independent monitor assigned to the Eastern Shore facility.
"Every time I go down there it's worse," said Claudia Wright, who is in charge of reporting on Carter for the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit.
Wright said last week that the behavior of the seven girls at Carter, committed to the Department of Juvenile Services for long-term treatment, has worsened as the facility's behavior management program has failed and security has been tightened.
But the Department of Juvenile Services said Tuesday the bad conditions are a result of the temporary suspension of outings for all juvenile facilities last month.
The department stopped all off-ground outings to review the process, said Jay Cleary, director of communications for the Department of Juvenile Services. The outings were reviewed for their safety and relevance to the girls' treatment, he said.
As trips off grounds are a major incentive in the Carter facility's new behavior program, the decline in behavior is a result of this suspension, Cleary said.
The majority of off-campus outings have been reinstated as of Monday, and the problems should alleviate themselves, Cleary said.
Wright, who has worked for the independent monitor since 2007, said last week she would make her observations in the monitoring unit's next quarterly report, due out in a few weeks.
DJS met with the monitor Monday after Capital News Service contacted the department for comment.
Nick Moroney, the director of the monitoring unit, asked that the concerns about Carter not be published ahead of the upcoming report. Publishing the information might disturb the reporting process, Moroney said.
Moroney did not say whether Wright's observations would still be included in the upcoming report.
Before the move, committed girls were previously housed at the troubled Thomas J.S. Waxter Children's Center, where they mingled with detained girls waiting for court appearances or final residential assignments.
In November, the committed girls were moved from Waxter to Carter, allowing for separation of the detained and committed population.
Boys living at Carter were moved to other residential treatment centers and detained girls remained at Waxter.
In order to fully ensure the facility would be suited for girls, Carter was closed for three weeks while renovations were made and the staff was re-trained for female residents.
Among the changes, the department implemented the "Challenge" program, a new behavior management system that rewards girls with good behavior by allowing them to participate in activities or even leave the facility for a short time.
"It's not so much punishment. It reinforces individual responsibilities," said the Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Sam Abed last month.
The girls were surveyed as to what rewards they valued the most, Abed said. Youth are rewarded with phone calls, movies or even home visits.
The department, as well as the end-of the-year monitor's report issued in February, cited the conditions at Carter as a "positive environment for staff and girls," and the move was called a "tremendous success."
According to the monitor, however, what originally appeared as a success has turned negative.
The "Challenge" incentive program has been failing and facility staff has tightened security, Wright said. Without the motivation, the behavior of the girls has declined, she said.
A youth was shackled while being transported to and from a doctor's appointment, and was restrained during the appointment as well, Wright said.
"With that kind of stress going on, the girls are responding," she said.
The department is also reviewing its policy on restraints, Cleary said. Staff examines the security needs of the youth and whether they are a danger to the community when deciding the level of restraint, he said.
Wright said she suspects the staff is not adequately prepared to deal with long-term services, especially for girls.
The Department of Juvenile Services works closely with the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, an independent monitor under the Office of the Attorney General.
Abed meets with the monitors frequently, and they have had a good working relationship, Cleary said.