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State contemplates what to do with
Victor Cullen Center

Tare E. Buck
Frederick News Post

(5/6) The long-term fate of the Victor Cullen Center is as yet unknown, but local residents fear that they are being kept out of the loop as the state decides what to do with the empty juvenile detention center.

“We’re saying, ‘It’s a new ball game.’ The state has a responsibility to let this community know what the future plans are,” said Karl Weissenbach, director of the Cascade Committee and a member of the Victor Cullen Community Advisory Board.

Mr. Weissenbach pointed to the center’s checkered past with inmate escapes and other headaches, along with a supposed history of keeping local residents in the dark when decisions about Cullen were made.

The state closed the center’s doors in 2002, not long after failures of a private contractor — Youth Services International — which ran the facility, came to light.

Since that time, the Ehrlich administration took office and the former Department of Juvenile Justice saw its name changed to the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS).

A DJS spokeswoman, LaWanda Edwards, said Monday the state, for the moment, has no plans for the site.

“There are no plans at the moment,” Ms. Edwards said. “There’s nothing in our budget that dictates that. So that, to me, is a good sign. ... It’s certainly not something we are looking to deal with at the moment. In the future, we’re going to have to eventually think about something.”

That doesn’t stop rumors from persisting throughout the local community. Mr. Weissenbach said he has heard stories ranging from the state’s plans to change the site into an adult detention center, to the possibility of re-opening the facility for juveniles but on a smaller scale than the former cramped quarters.

Ms. Edwards said she had “no knowledge of that,” when asked if the site could be transferred out of DJS and become an adult detention facility.

Still, doubts remain.

“There’s a lot of mistrust about Victor Cullen,” Mr. Weissenbach said. “And the community should be involved. The community should be heard as to what is appropriate for that particular site.

“If it’s not going to be a 48-bed facility, then what are they going to do with it? Those are the kinds of questions we are asking the state,” he said.

Mr. Weissenbach said the most recent legislative session included the passage of a Senate bill that limits the department’s contracts with private vendors for services to three years.

More specifics, however, are not mentioned in the bill and the only facility the bill actually mentions by name is the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, a similar treatment center to Cullen near Baltimore.

What the bill means to Cullen’s future is also uncertain.

Ms. Edwards said work on the master plan has yet to begin and but that the completed document will enable “us to be able to tell what we’d like (DJS) to look like 10 years from now. That would include everything, programs, that’s everything. But, as of now, there’s nothing” on the department’s radar as far as Cullen is concerned.

“Nothing’s been put together,” she repeated. “There is no plan.”

Mr. Weissenbach still wishes to remind the state that his group and other residents are anxiously awaiting any news.
He also said the site may well serve the state in other ways besides detention, for adults or juveniles.

“We don’t want to wake up one morning and find out they’re putting in some kind of adult detention center or something,” he said. “That’s the way things have been always been done there. We’re always the last to know. And all we’re saying is, the state needs to sit down with the community and let us be involved in the process.”

The Victor Cullen Center long ago was also a tuberculosis treatment center. As one of the state’s juvenile treatment centers, the site housed 209 beds and also included a 16-bed transitional living program, Ms. Edwards said.

Juveniles from the ages of 14 to 20 were cared for under 24-hour supervision. The site’s average daily population was close to 225 juveniles, she said, and its maximum capacity was 337.

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