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Residents skeptical about Cullen re-opening

Chris Patterson

(4/19) Following a meeting with Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Donald Devore, many Sabillasville area residents said they would wait to see if the state follows through with promises made during the meeting about the re-opening of Victor Cullen Academy for juvenile offenders.

Devore answered questions during the meeting hosted by the Northwestern Frederick County Civic Association at Sabillasville Elementary School on Monday, April 10.

Approximately 100 people will be employed by the facility and plans are currently under way to try and open by this summer. This year’s state budget allocates around $6.8 million dollars to refurbish the academy.

Devore asked residents to volunteer to participate in a committee to help draft a memorandum of understanding between area residents and the state, putting the promises the state makes to the community in writing.

“…I also know that the history of Victor Cullen was one where a lot of promises were made to this community… not meeting expectations relative to the protection of the community and the safety within the facility,” Devore said.

Maryland Department of Juvenile Services Director Donald Devore spoke to Northwestern Frederick County Civic Association recently about the state’s plans to reopen the Victor Cullen Academy for juvenile offenders this summer.

But he promised a “new day” with a substantial budget allocation from the state to handle the re-opening appropriately and address the concerns of the community.
Around 50 people attended the meeting, in addition to reporters and several of Devore’s staff. Members of the civic association and others came to hear the plan for re-opening the academy for the third time. Managed at the time by a private company, Victor Cullen was closed for the second time in 2002 when concerns for the safety of the juveniles came to light.

During his speech, Devore made a commitment that the new facility would house no more than 48 residents, a substantial reduction from the over 200 juveniles formerly housed there. That particular announcement made a few people, including civic association president George Khun, say that made them feel a little better.

Devore’s proposal includes a change in the state’s plan for juveniles that involves creating several small regional treatment facilities around the state rather than sending the juveniles to large facilities or, as is so often the case, to out-of-state facilities far from home and family.

Devore also announced that the facility’s juveniles would predominately be ages 13 to 17 and would not have committed any seriously violent crimes, such as murder, rape or child molestation.

Security was of particular concern to area residents who reminded the secretary of incidents where the juveniles escaped in the past.

Assistant Secretary James Smith, in charge of residential programs, responded to that concern by saying there would be electronic surveillance of the grounds, a staff member who will walk the perimeter every two hours, and special mesh fence that is impossible to climb.

Though Devore’s promises and demeanor eased some discomfort, it was not enough for residents to forget the past. Many residents stressed their concerns for their safety and their families’ safety during the meeting. Following the meeting, several residents, like Mary Rae Cantwell, weren’t ready yet to buy into the state’s promises.

“Wait and see,” Cantwell said when asked her opinion of the evening’s meeting. “Wait and see.”

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