A juvenile justice program for low- to moderate-risk youth housed at the state’s Cheltenham Youth Facility lacked basic security equipment and staff frequently violated policies requiring constant sight and sound supervision of youth, according to a report issued after a teacher’s death in February.
The state’s Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit began investigating after the death of Hannah Wheeling, an English teacher in the ReDirect program. ReDirect is a 24-bed residential program at Cheltenham, but outside the fenced-in portion of the detention center campus.
Donald W. DeVore, state secretary of juvenile justice, said in a response that two people were fired and others were demoted or suspended after the incident. Since then, they have also retrained employees in security policies and required department heads to confirm that staff have left their work location at the end of their shift.
The monitoring unit stated that the now-14-year-old and another student were allowed to stay with the teacher in a downstairs classroom without supervision from a direct care staff member — a common practice when students worked with teachers.
Other security issues were also raised. Security staff were often pulled for direct care, and the key control policy was not enforced. Employees, including Wheeling, had restricted keys to the Murphy Cottages, where the ReDirect program was housed.
Juvenile Justice has closed the ReDirect program, but the monitors recommended in their report that the Murphy Cottages no longer be used for residential programs, because youth can only be safely monitored on its top floor.
They also recommended new equipment for staff such as personal distress alarms and radios.
In his response, DeVore also wrote that 99 new resident advisors have been hired due to funding increases since 2007, as well as more security cameras and fencing for state youth facilities.
In light of Wheeling’s death, three reports on Cheltenham were released in August, from the DJS inspector general, the Maryland Department of Labor, and the state attorney general’s office.