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Shackled

Why Maryland's Juvenile-Justice System Is Set Up to Fail Baltimore's Poor Young Men

Read part one of "Shackled."

* The names of the youth and his mother profiled in this story were changed to protect their privacy.

Jefferson Jackson Steele

By Molly Rath | Posted 2/6/2002

April 9, 1999, was a Friday, and 11-year-old Bernard Smith spent most of it in his mother's Cherry Hill apartment with his nephew, niece, and cousin. Bernard and his relations usually spent such days simply watching television. On April 13, the children's parents--as well as Baltimore City police, the city Department of Social Services, and the state Department of Juvenile Justice--would learn that this day had been different.

Bernard and the two other boys, who were 6 and 7 at the time, sexually assaulted the girl, who was 4.

A subsequent medical exam showed that the girl sustained no injuries, and a psychological assessment stated that while she appeared "somewhat stressed and anxious while discussing the alleged abuse," she seemed otherwise healthy and well adjusted. She was referred to therapy, as were her brother and cousin. Her uncle was destined for much worse.

Mercy Medical Center, where the 4-year-old had been taken for a physical exam April 13, reported the incident to the Baltimore City Police Department. Police in turn called social services' Child Protective Services Division because the children had been left without adult supervision. In the days immediately following, Bernard went to police headquarters for questioning, then was taken across town to the old Northern District station, which handles all juvenile arrests. There he was booked, fingerprinted, and released into his mother's custody until Aug. 30, when he was due to appear in juvenile court.

Between his arrest and court date, Bernard dropped out of the sixth grade (which he was in the process of repeating) and began acting out in ways much more pronounced than in the past, his mother, Beverly Jones*, says. For some time he'd been fascinated with burning paper; now Jones was finding more scraps of paper, more piles of ashes. He'd always liked going down to the nearby train tracks to catch frogs and tadpoles; now other neighborhood children were knocking on Jones' door to tell her he was down there jumping on moving trains. He was running away, he was drinking, and on one occasion Jones found a butcher's knife atop his bedroom dresser.

Troubled by his behavior, she took Bernard to Sheppard and Enoch Pratt psychiatric hospital for evaluation. He was placed in locked-door seclusion for "oppositional and disruptive behavior" and diagnosed with depression and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He was placed on three different psychotropic drugs typically prescribed for conditions associated with depression and bipolar disorder: Prozac, Depakote, and Zyprexa. A hospital psychiatrist recommended that Bernard be monitored by a school guidance counselor or psychologist and be placed in special education.

On Aug. 30, Bernard went to court. Master James Casey, the juvenile court's adjudicator, wanted to send him home until mid-October, when he would face an adjudicatory hearing, juvenile-justice parlance for trial. But Jones refused to take him.

"Bernard had been drinking and smoking and sneaking out when I thought he was sleeping. I was tired, frustrated, scared--all of those. I also knew he needed help," says Jones, a part-time housekeeper at a Baltimore County nursing home.

Bernard was placed in foster care. And though she didn't know it as she stood in a dim first-floor courtroom in downtown Baltimore, on that day Beverly Jones lost her youngest son.

On Aug. 30, 1999, Bernard was committed to the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Today, 29 months and 18 program and facility placements later--few of which his mother ever knew about--he's still there. He's grown 7 inches (to 6-foot-2) and filled out considerably, Jones says. And he's far angrier and far more aggressive than when his odyssey through DJJ began.

"He has not gotten any help; if anything, he is more self-destructive because he has not gotten the mental-health attention that he needs," Jones says. "He still has the anger bottled up in him. He's been moved around so much he feels like he's not wanted. He's angry--not only with me, but with things going on in the system."

Advocates as well as professionals inside the juvenile-justice system say Bernard's case is typical of DJJ, exemplifying the failings of the department and the overall dysfunction of Maryland's handling of young offenders.

Joe Strong runs a program for the Washington-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice that aims to keep at-risk youth out of incarceration. Through a contract the center has with DJJ, he also oversees intake for the department in Prince George's County, a job that puts him in daily contact with kids at Cheltenham Youth Facility, Maryland's largest youth-detention site. He says Bernard's case "really shows in glaring fashion the various shortcomings and breakdowns inherent in the system."

Bernard's court hearings have been rescheduled numerous times over the years, delaying his placement in appropriate programs and causing him to languish in detention limbo for months on end. His placements within DJJ have been all over the map, ranging from foster care to high-intensity discipline programs designed to scare young offenders straight. More than half of his placements have been in detention-type settings, and his stays have far exceeded limits laid out both in DJJ's policies and in Maryland law. He has been heavily medicated throughout his time in state custody--and placed in isolation for refusing to take his medicine--yet has had little contact with health professionals. Therapy sessions have been few and far between, and his schooling has been sporadic. After two and a half years in DJJ, 14-year-old Bernard reads at the third- or fourth-grade level, and his spelling hasn't progressed beyond words like "this" and "that."

Perhaps most telling of all, nearly three years after Bernard sexually assaulted his 4-year-old niece, he's no closer to knowing how or why it happened.

"This case just reeks of a stinky system that is encumbered by its own self," says Strong, who has no personal involvement in Bernard's case but reviewed it at City Paper's request. "He's already been in DJJ for almost three years. How long does he have to pay his debt? Kids with murder don't do this kind of time.

"You have to address [the sex offense], but with time constraints in mind. Are we now treating the behavior or the psychosis? Can a [14]-year-old make the connection between what he did three years ago and what he's doing today? I think not."

DJJ, Strong concludes, doesn't "live up to [its] own mission. They're not restructuring lives, they're not supporting families. What we're doing is creating delinquency right here. We're not abating it."

That Maryland's juvenile-justice system is in trouble, no one disputes. Overcrowding at detention centers and beatings at boot camps have been so persistently exposed over the past few years that they're almost old news. Even DJJ Secretary Bishop Robinson and would-be governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who as lieutenant governor since 1995 has made juvenile justice a key part of her portfolio, have acknowledged mistakes and management problems in a system with a $178 million annual budget and some 35,000 new cases a year.

The failings persist despite increased press and public attention and a budget that has risen 35 percent in the past seven years. Officials and outside advocates reel them off like a chorus, raised more loudly with each new scandal: physical abuse of youth; overworked, underpaid staff; insufficient resources; bureaucratic inertia. Only occasionally audible beneath this refrain are the inequities of a system disproportionately made up of Baltimore City youth, the vast majority of whom are poor, male, and African-American. Only rarely discussed is their cumulative effect on those young men, their families, and their communities.

Bernard's case throws those failings into stark relief. It shows a system bogged down in politics and paperwork; a system that has sacrificed its long-term goal of molding productive adults to the short-term demand of making juveniles pay for delinquent acts; a system rigidly built to deal with young offenders as cases to be processed rather than as kids with particular and often pressing needs. And it shows the agency's apathy toward those in the greatest need: young people with dead-end prospects whose families are too troubled and too poor to navigate and challenge the system; young people who, by virtue of landing on DJJ's doorstep, are written off.

"That kid's real issue is not the delinquency," Strong says. "Nobody wants to hear this shit, but it's a matter of equality. Ninety percent of our referrals come from the Office of the Public Defender--that means they're people who can't afford their own attorney. If you really, really remove the delinquency issue, what you will see is that at the root of all this is social inequalities."

In an election year in which Townsend's front-runner status guarantees a high profile for these issues, the stakes for DJJ are high. More than any campaign pledge or program of reform, Bernard's case shows just how high. And it shows that the stakes for those in DJJ's charge are much higher.

"The only thing I can see for my son," Beverly Jones says, "is constantly being locked up, or either me end[ing] up burying him."

Beverly Jones grew up in the 800 block of North Eutaw Street, the youngest of four children, back when the vacant lot there now was a row of houses. Her father dug graves at a cemetery, and her mother did piecework in a clothing factory.

She graduated from Northern High School in the early 1970s and went straight to work at a place-mat factory until 1975, when she had her first child, a daughter. A single mother, she lived in various places off and on over the next 10 years, working for the most part and raising kids. A son arrived in '78, while she was living with her parents. On Nov. 9, 1987, Bernard was born.

At the time, Jones--who is white but whose children are all biracial--was living in a rental house at 21st Street and Greenmount Avenue, where Bernard contracted lead poisoning. So when an opening for public housing at Cherry Hill Homes came up, she jumped. She has lived in the South Baltimore project since, in a brick, brown-painted attached unit with a barren stoop and drawn blinds.

Jones doesn't like her neighborhood, but she can't afford to give up her public-housing benefits, and she reckons any other project would offer the same bleak surroundings. Drug dealing is rampant, parental supervision all but nonexistent. "The kids in the neighborhood--they think nothing of having a 40-ounce, a blunt, and a pint of Jack Daniel's and sitting out there on the playground, children between 10 and 16 years old," she says.

Jones says she worked hard at protecting her children from their immediate environment, and for a while she succeeded. Her daughter is now married and raising two children, working as a nursing assistant and pursuing a nursing degree. Her elder son did well until his mid-teens, when he got caught up in the drug scene--"He was one of the little fellas who held the stuff on the corners" for older dealers, she says. And up until he was about 10 years old, Bernard also was a good child.

"He likes frogs and fishes and animals," Jones says, and he would frequently bring the small creatures he found home. "[Bernard] likes to draw, he likes to work with his hands. And little things used to bring [Bernard] joy. It could be a treat to McDonald's--just little things. He always made his presence known. He would be glued to you while you were there. . . . If he loved you, you knew you were loved. But somewhere along the way, he lost his footing."

Bernard was also big--5-foot-7 by the time he was 11, and that "has to be awkward," Jones says. "He's in a man's body but he's still a child." Kids in the overwhelmingly black neighborhood would pick fights with him because his mother is white, she says. "[He] would come home literally crying because somebody would fight him and he didn't want to fight back. He wasn't a fighter, but kids would dare other kids to fight [him]. Then his grandmother's death was the last straw. He was already struggling to find a place where he would fit in."

Bernard and his maternal grandmother were close. After her mother died in 1996, Jones says, she noticed a difference first in Bernard's demeanor, then his behavior. "He just got more quieter, and he seemed to hold more things in when he had run-ins with children in the neighborhood," she says. Then he started burning paper. Jones would find scraps, some near the stove, and burn marks on the floor.

Bernard was at Cheltenham while much of the reporting for this article was done and was not available to be interviewed. The following account of what has happened to him since April 9, 1999, is based on court records, including reports submitted to the court by the various professionals associated with the case, and extensive interviews with his mother.

Bernard was charged with nine criminal counts, the most serious being first-degree sex offense and second-degree rape. After the assault on his niece, Jones says, Bernard's behavior became even more troubling. (She also says that, to her knowledge, there is no history of sexual abuse in her family.)

Bernard spent more time at the railroad tracks, jumping trains. He refused to come home when Jones called. He started smoking, drinking, and staying out most nights. On Aug. 4, increasingly fearful about his mental state, she took him to the University of Maryland Medical Center, which referred him to Sheppard Pratt. During a week of psychiatric evaluations at the Towson hospital, he was placed on numerous medications, and by his fourth day he was responding well to therapy and to "much encouragement and redirection," according to his discharge papers. These records describe Bernard as exhibiting "extremely impulsive dangerous behaviors" but state that he is "not suicidal, not homicidal." The attending doctor made both psychiatric and medical referrals and recommended various school-based support systems, including placement in special ed.

But Bernard was never in any one school long enough for those recommendations to be followed. On Aug. 30, Master Casey ordered that he be placed in the supervised care of the Department of Juvenile Justice for no more than 45 days, or until his adjudicatory hearing on Oct. 15 (later postponed until Nov. 4). DJJ placed him in a foster home in Northeast Baltimore, but it didn't work out. Nor did the next home across town in West Baltimore. There, 11-year-old Bernard was placed in a home where a young man on home monitor for a handgun charge lived. Bernard was so afraid of being around the older boy at night that he often slept on the porch.

At the Nov. 4 hearing Bernard's case was pleaded down to the lowest count, fourth-degree sex offense. His disposition hearing, or sentencing, was set for Dec. 6, but on the appointed date his DJJ probation officer showed up in court without him. "The caseworker came up to me in the hallway and asked me, 'Do you know where Bernard is?'" Jones says. Master Bradley Bailey ordered DJJ to "restaff" Bernard, but two days later the probation officer returned to court, this time with Bernard. The master ruled that he be moved to a "therapeutic foster-home-type placement" and made DJJ responsible for his needs pertaining to education and health care, including medication and psychiatric and psychological care. Two weeks later, Bernard was sent to the Maryland Youth Residence Center (MYRC) in North Baltimore, where youth requiring supervision go to await placement in appropriate programs.

Juvenile-justice-reform advocate Jim McComb, past chairperson of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition and executive director of the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth, visited MYRC late last summer. What he saw then was a locked facility where children weren't allowed to go outside, where there was virtually no recreation, where living quarters were substandard, and where what passed for education was, he says, "the greatest sham in the world." What's more, McComb says, it was filled with seriously troubled kids, not unlike Bernard.

"I can't think of anything you could do that would be more harmful to [a youth like Bernard] than exposing him to delinquents. And the adult influence in these facilities is not very positive by and large," McComb says. "You're talking about young children and putting them in purgatory. A kid who has depression, who suffers from ADHD and a conduct disorder, a kid who has raped his [4-year-old niece], which is pretty serious behavior--all of those things should suggest that this is a child who needs structure, significant supports, including supports in the classroom. Putting this kind of kid in MYRC--I don't know how to describe it rationally, and at the same time I can't minimize it: It's like a death sentence."

Maryland law and DJJ's policies dictate that kids cannot be kept waiting for foster-home placement for more than 30 days, unless another trial or waiver hearing takes place; then the period can be extended another 30 days. Bernard waited at MYRC for three and a half months, during which he was relocated three times, including a two-week stint at Cheltenham. At one point his medication was discontinued, due to short supplies. The court told DJJ to make sure he got his medication and again ordered that the case be restaffed, but he remained in the same probation officer's charge.

"It's a perfect example of a sympathetic judge or master ordering something and then the youth and family having to deal with a very belligerent Department of Juvenile Justice," says Stacey Gurian-Sherman, a juvenile-justice advocate who has worked with Beverly Jones. "DJJ so often is unwilling to enforce an order or is incapable of doing so."

In early April 2000, five months after Bailey remanded him to a "therapeutic foster home," Bernard was finally sent to such a facility, Children's Home in Catonsville, which provides long-term treatment programs and foster care for abused, neglected, and abandoned children. But his stay there was "not successful," according to a court-ordered medical report, and after three months he was returned to MYRC.

According to the report, Bernard had "difficulty adjusting to the [Children's Home] program and managing his anger, often resulting in physical altercations with his peers and/or staff." On one occasion he punched through a window and cut himself, requiring 10 stitches, and he frequently had to be placed in restraints. He was hospitalized at Sheppard Pratt, but upon return to Children's Home was "oppositional, noncompliant and made numerous threats towards peers and staff." On July 3 he was arrested for disorderly conduct and taken, by ambulance and in restraints, back to Sheppard Pratt, where he was prescribed Adderall, Zyprexa, and Neurontin--drugs typically used to treat ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and seizures--and locked in seclusion. Citing his "lack of motivation for treatment and his severe aggressive stance," Sheppard Pratt recommended July 4 that Bernard be "referred into the appropriate DJJ environment as soon as possible."

Bernard spent another three and a half months at MYRC, awaiting a new placement. The court ordered a hearing for Oct. 17, but his probation officer again failed to bring him to court and the hearing was postponed until December. In the meantime, Bernard was sent to Maple Shade Youth and Family Services Inc., an Eastern Shore school for students with educational handicaps stemming from severe emotional problems. Bernard stayed there two months before landing back at MYRC for another four. In April 2001, the court scrapped its "therapeutic foster home" recommendation, sending Bernard home to his mother's house in Cherry Hill instead to participate in a community-based program. Though well-intended, it would prove to be a disastrous decision.

"Nobody had realized how institutionalized Bernard had become," Jones says. "Once he came home it completely fell apart because nobody had dealt with the anger that all started when his grandmother died."

Bernard entered the sixth grade and was placed in special ed at Diggs Johnson Elementary, but he stopped going to school after three days and reverted to his old behaviors.

"I'm scared to sleep in my own house," Jones says. "I'm walking around my house with my keys and bus pass in my pocket because I'm afraid he'll leave. But he was out on the street drinking and smoking. . . . I talked to everybody--the social worker, the master--and they all said, 'There's nothing we can do, he hasn't reviolated.' Does he have to hurt me, does he have to hurt someone else, does he have to hurt himself before anybody helps him?

"At this point, Bernard is just a piece of paper, where he's mine on paper but he's committed to DJJ--with no help and no future."

Had home- and community-based services been tried earlier in Bernard's DJJ tenure, "they would have worked," Gurian-Sherman maintains. "Now before you can even address the problems he came into the system with, you have to undo 18 months of institutionalization." She calls that missed opportunity "the saddest part about this case."

Helpless to help Bernard, Jones turned him over to Child Protective Services last July 1. Almost as soon as she dropped him off at the agency's midtown office he ran away, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. That night he showed up at her doorstep; she called police, and Bernard bolted before they arrived. A few days later he returned. "He said he was tired and hungry and dirty," Jones says. "He just said he wouldn't run. He was tired." On July 6 the police picked him up and sent him to Cheltenham.

Three and a half months later, on Oct. 23, Bernard went to court. Two weeks shy of his 14th birthday, he was easily the tallest of the dozens of young men with whom he was herded into the courthouse. Feet shackled, he was taken to a holding room reserved for the hardest-core juvenile offenders. When he entered the courtroom and saw his mother, he cried. During the hearing, Bernard's new probation officer assured Jones he'd be placed in a program any day. That day did come--after another three months.

The Department of Juvenile Justice maintains a confidentiality policy regarding its charges. DJJ officials will not publicly discuss any individual case. "I can't even acknowledge a youth was even in our system," department spokesperson Lee Towers says. "That would violate confidentiality."

The closest thing to a departmental comment on its handling of Bernard is 150 words worth of notes from an interview with his probation officer, conducted by the Court Medical Services of the Circuit Court of Baltimore City as part of a report on Bernard's case submitted to the court on Aug. 31, 2000:

"[The probation officer] informed that [Beverly Jones] complained to her that DJJ had not 'done anything' for her son over the past year. [The officer] informed that over the past year: [Bernard] had to leave two shelter-care homes because of his oppositional defiant behavior . . . he was asked to leave the Children's Home due to his aggressive threatening behavior; he was in Sheppard Pratt twice; and she informed that [Bernard] had been in Sheppard Pratt one time previously as well. [The officer] stated that [Bernard] has responded best at MYRC. . . . She reports that he was unresponsive to [one] sex-offender therapist. She reported that [Bernard] had an appointment . . . to see another."

Jones is the first to acknowledge Bernard's troubling behaviors. But she says that during his time in DJJ custody little has been done to address them.

"If you don't address them, how can he receive help for those behaviors? If they had done something for him, then why is there still so much self-destructive behavior?" she asks. "Nothing's been done. We're still basically at square one. The only difference is he's been placed with people who do things to [Bernard] where if I did them they would lock me up."

Joe Strong has spent nearly a decade working in and with Maryland's juvenile-justice system. After reviewing Bernard's case history, he says Jones isn't far off the mark.

"This is a classical case, where Mom says, 'Now you've brought me back a time bomb. You did not address the nature of his introduction to you. You are obligated to fix some things in there, but no one ever checked to see if A-B-C, 1-2-3 is working in this case. No one measured the success of these things, and as a result you've brought me back a kid who is worse. What has changed in those two years, other than . . . you've created a predator? That's what you've done.'"

Strong and other youth advocates say Bernard's case, from his introduction to DJJ in 1999 until today, is rife with inappropriate decisions and procedural inconsistencies--not to mention the many, oft-publicized problems of detention-center stays that exceed legal limits, gross lack of services, and supervision by unqualified staff.

Seven of Bernard's nine original charges were Class I felonies, the most serious offenses by DJJ standards. For Strong, the fact that the state backed off all of those and settled instead for a single Class IV misdemeanor, the least of all juvenile transgressions, is the biggest red flag that his case has been mismanaged.

"Everything that happens beyond the verdict should be consistent with the court's finding," he says. "You cannot charge him with a misdemeanor and treat him like a felon. Why is it he is still in the system and we're talking about detention patterns? He ran away from home--that's not a criminal issue, that's a social issue. His whole case stinks. The whole thing stinks. . . .

"It is inconceivable that social services or even mental health hasn't interceded. Why at that point didn't somebody identify what was going on? Was it a lack of communication between agencies, or a lack of regard for the constituent?"

Of the 29 months Bernard has been in DJJ custody, all but five have been spent simply waiting to be sent to one program or another. More than half of that time was spent in detention, or a jail-like setting such as MYRC. Only rarely did his mother know where he was. Critics say this kind of holding pattern is endemic to the juvenile-justice system, especially when it comes to kids whose problems, at their core, may be less criminal than emotional or psychological.

"There are dozens of [Bernards] today in detention waiting placement," says McComb, the juvenile-justice advocate. "Dozens."

Each of the past two years, state Del. Kenneth Montague (D-Baltimore City) has introduced legislation designed, among other things, to cut to 15 days the limit on detention for juveniles awaiting program placement. Both times the bill was approved by the House of Delegates but died in a state Senate committee.

However, smarting from a very public outcry last winter over poor conditions at Cheltenham, DJJ has taken steps to reduce its detention population, particularly among youth awaiting placement. The department set new detention guidelines and now instructs intake officers to avoid placing juveniles in detention at all costs. (Previously, intake officers had wide discretion in placing kids. Now, the only offenses that qualify for pretrial detention are first- and second-degree murder; first- and second-degree sex offense; first-degree assault with intent to rape, rob, or maim; and numerous car thefts.)

The new rules are working, according to juvenile-justice officials. A September 2001 DJJ report shows that the daily average number of juveniles awaiting placement has dropped from 145 last winter to 118 last summer. The rate seems to have held steady since then; Towers says that on Jan. 28 there were 121 kids awaiting placement.

But behind the numbers are more intractable problems that streamlining the intake process won't solve. The kids still biding time in detention are more likely to be the ones the September report describes as "difficult to place"--youth who are "developmentally disabled, learning disabled, and emotionally disturbed." DJJ has programs to address these problems, but, as the report states, they "are not generally equipped to deal with the aggressive, manipulative, and oppositional behaviors presented by these youth." DJJ Secretary Bishop Robinson acknowledged as much in testimony before state legislators last month, noting that these troubled kids are largely ignored by the state until they get dumped at his department's door.

"In most cases as it relates to our high-needs youth, the problems have been there and they have been identified. But for some unknown reason, we wait until the kid commits a delinquent act before we decide that something should be done," Robinson told members of the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 22. "And we place him with an organization that is really not qualified to deal with severe mental-health problems."

In an effort to begin filling that gap, DJJ, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention embarked in 2000 on a three-year, $32 million initiative to improve mental-health care for detained youth. In 2001, according to DJJ figures, 3,206 detained juveniles, or 44 percent of those held over the course of the year, received mental-health assessments. The initiative calls for such assessments for 90 percent of detainees this year and every one of them next year.

But if the assessments will help the department pinpoint juvenile offenders' mental-health needs, the prospects for actually addressing those needs are less rosy. DJJ, Robinson told legislators, is chronically understaffed and its employees low-paid. (Many jobs at Cheltenham pay $8 an hour, Joe Strong says, and senior counselors, who require degrees, start at about $22,500.) At Cheltenham--home, by Towers' count, to up to 180 kids on any given day--there are two social workers on duty and a psychologist who works 15 hours a week. MYRC employs just one social worker for as many as 48 youth. DJJ plans, outlined in the September report, include adding two more psychologists and a psychiatrists at Cheltenham and a full-time psychologist and two part-time mental-health professionals at MYRC in the next two years, but its requests for more money to do so have been rebuffed.

This gap between DJJ's intentions and its abilities couldn't be plainer than in Bernard's case. Having spent little of his DJJ time in programs prescribed for his offense, he has received little in the way of services. In an August 2000 report to the court, a psychiatrist wrote that Bernard needs "intensive individual therapy (approximately twice per week)" and close monitoring to determine if his drug regimen was effective. Beverly Jones says Bernard told her that at Cheltenham--his home for more than seven months since his initial arrest--the only mental-health professionals he saw were doctors who came monthly to fill his prescriptions and infirmary staff who supervised him when he was placed in isolation for refusing to take his medicine or for fighting with other kids. At MYRC, where he's spent about 10 and a half months, he participated in a few counseling sessions with sex-offense therapists. According to court records, the sessions did no good. The court kept ordering them anyway.

On Jan. 5, 2002, Bernard was at Cheltenham. He'd been bumped among various programs at the detention center since early July of last year. On this evening, according to an account Beverly Jones pieced together from her son and detention-center officials, he asked a guard on duty if he could leave the day room and return to his bedroom. The guard said no. Bernard asked for a piece of paper so he could write a grievance. The guard again said no and started pushing Bernard toward his room. Bernard didn't go easily, and when they reached his room the guard hit him in the face, walkie-talkie in hand. At 6:40 p.m., some 60 miles away, Jones' phone rang. Her son, she was told, was en route to Southern Maryland Hospital in Clinton to get five stitches between his eyes.

Four days and a lot of talk about a criminal investigation later, Bernard was removed from Cheltenham and taken to MYRC. Five days after that, he was placed in a foster home and enrolled in another therapeutic program, at the Betrell Academy in Catonsville, where he's slated to participate both in group and one-on-one therapy sessions on weekends and after school.

"Right now, I'm hoping that the psychologist can help him. I'm hoping this wasn't just another placement where they feel like they can't handle [Bernard], that he's out of control, and shuffle him somewhere else and lock him down like Cheltenham or Hickey," another state juvenile detention facility in Baltimore County, Jones says. "I want to have him back at home, but if he doesn't want it for himself then I can't have him back here and watch him self-destruct. Then I would have to relinquish my custody. . . .

"Sometimes, I wonder if it would have been better to watch my child stay home and self-destruct and send him to his maker," she says. "But how can I call myself a parent and sit back and simply watch?

"The most difficult decision I've had to make was when I asked for help for [Bernard]. I had to acknowledge that I could not help my child. I relied on a system that was supposed to help. It hasn't helped."

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