June, 23 2018
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Montana Report Prompts Director to Resign
The director of Maryland's juvenile detention facilities resigned Thursday, a day after the release of an investigative report alleging he abused juvenile offenders while running a residential treatment center for troubled teens in Montana.
Chris Perkins submitted his resignation Thursday morning to Secretary of Juvenile Services Donald DeVore, said Tammy Brown, a spokeswoman for the department.
Prompting of Perkins' Resignation
On Wednesday, a Lewis and Clark County judge released a redacted Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services investigative report that alleged "substantiated" abuse at Swan Valley Youth Academy while Perkins, 38, was director of the military-style academy for juvenile offenders.
The report states that Perkins "directly abused or neglected youth under his care."
In one instance, the report alleges Perkins "placed a youth in mechanical restraints for the evening directly after a suicide attempt, refusing the youth mental health intervention until the next day."
On another occasion, Perkins allegedly left a teenager in seclusion for five days after the youth refused to cooperate with the intake process.
Perkins Not Alone in Abusing Troubled Teens
The investigation also details severe abuses committed by a man identified only as "Staff #1." It alleges that Staff #1 and employees under his direction physically abused cadets by "kicking youth doing exercises, slamming youth against the wall, roughly restraining youth on the tile floor with all of Staff #1's weight on them, and making the youth exercise and drink large quantities of hot/warm water until the youth vomited." The report alleges that Perkins "witnessed many of the youth intakes, and supported Staff #1 in the implementation process."
The facility housed about 25 adjudicated teens at the time of the alleged abuse, according to former Swan Valley employee Gary Schultz. A case worker at the facility until shortly before the state began its investigation, Schultz said many of the troubled teens at the facility suffered from behavioral, mental and emotional problems that staff at the facility were not adequately prepared or trained to handle.
Schultz, who is also a former chemical dependency counselor from Great Falls, said he recognized potential dangers and raised those concerns to Perkins but was ignored.
"I knew that something was going to happen," Schultz said Thursday. "I saw the potential for a cadet getting hurt or abused. I saw that potential escalate to the point where I was afraid to be there, professionally, anymore."
An attorney for the Montana Advocacy Program first brought abuse allegations to local and state authorities in October 2005. Shortly thereafter, DPHHS opened investigations into reported licensing violations and abuse and neglect allegations.
Cornerstone Programs, the private company that ran the state-licensed Swan Valley Youth Academy for more than six years, reportedly fired Perkins shortly after the state finished its investigations. The facility voluntarily closed its doors in February 2006, citing declining enrollment in the program and financial difficulties.
Perkins was hired this summer to help reopen a troubled juvenile facility in Maryland and was recently promoted to direct all youth detention facilities for the state. DeVore told the Baltimore Sun that he was unaware of Perkins' history at Swan Valley when he hired him. Perkins told reporters he didn't reveal his background at the facility to DeVore because he was cleared by Montana officials and said the report was unfairly prejudicial.
Maryland authorities are now reviewing the background check process for applicants in the wake of the scandal. The background check on Perkins didn't uncover the allegations in Montana because the case against him was dismissed on procedural grounds. However, according to a DPHHS lawyer, the investigation substantiated MAP's claims of abuse at the facility. Perkins appealed that determination, but officials for the state failed to appear for the hearing so the case was dropped.
Perkins submitted his resignation to DeVore on Thursday. According to a written statement, Perkins said the recent media attention surrounding the Swan Valley case had become a distraction to the department.
Andrée Larose, the MAP attorney who first discovered the abuse allegations and fought a year-long court battle to unseal the DPHHS abuse investigation, said Perkins' decision to resign was the right one.
"In any juvenile corrections system, there needs to be leadership that is positive and provides support and guidance that children need to become more responsible and law-abiding citizens," Larose said. "The bigger concern is how the state of Montana will act to make sure that substantiations of abuse don't fall through cracks again. I would like to see some reform of how we address these issues in Montana."
Larose added that she still hopes the Lake County Attorney's Office will pursue criminal charges in the case.
"The statute of limitation on assault on a minor is five years. I believe we're still within statute of limitations to pursue some of the offenses that occurred here," she said.
Calls to the Lake County Attorney's Office were not returned Thursday.
Pilot Program in New York to Help Troubled Teens 12/13/07
Montana Judge Unseals Swan Valley Report 12/13/07
Teen in Illinois Sent to Boot Camp 12/13/07
North Carolina Resident Suing Whisper Ridge 12/11/07
Former Montana Boot Camp Director Exposed for Abuse in Maryland 12/12/07
Getting to Know Attachment Disorder 12/10/07
How the Mind of a Teenage Killer Works 12/6/07
Excelsior Youth Center Helping Troubled Teens Get Cookin' 12/4/07
Georgia Sherriff Aims to Scare Troubled Teens Straight 12/5/07
New Jersey Residents Seek to Solve Youth Crisis 12/05/07
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