A few months after he took over as Maryland's Juvenile Justice secretary, Bishop Robinson asked an aide for some numbers on the budget and juveniles. The aide said he had the numbers in his office and offered to bring them right back. After the man had been gone an hour, Robinson wondered what the problem was. It turned out that the aide, unaccustomed to being asked such specific questions by senior management, had fled the building. He didn't return for a day or so and soon asked to be transferred.
"I guess I ask for a lot of information," Robinson says. "I want to get what I pay for."
Until recently, nobody in Maryland had been getting their money's worth from Juvenile Justice. Robinson took his post last year after leading an investigation into the beating of juveniles in the agency's boot camps--a scandal that led to the firing of Robinson's predecessor and four other senior staffers.
Robinson, who is 74 years old, came to his new job with a golden reputation. He started out as a park policeman 50 years ago, rose to head the state's Department of Public Safety for a decade and was Baltimore's first African-American police commissioner. When he was appointed Juvenile Justice secretary, the legislature tabled a series of recommendations it had prepared to try to address the agency's problems. "We trust him," says state Senator Philip C. Jimeno, a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Robinson enjoys relationships with key players in state government that stretch back decades. As Public Safety secretary, in the constrained budget environment of the early 1990s, he persuaded legislators to fund a major prison construction campaign. "He never lies to them, he never overstates what he needs, and they give it to him," says Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who nursed Robinson's career along as governor and as mayor of Baltimore.
The problems at Juvenile Justice are enormous. Despite the installation of a new $14 million computer system, the department has had no way of knowing how many kids were in the system at any one time without doing a manual head count, and no way of tracking their whereabouts once they left it. Robinson has started a quality-control office and has launched an "aftercare" program to track offenders following detainment.
The responsibilities are also huge: Juveniles account for 16 percent of all arrests in Maryland and a quarter of violent-crime arrests. Robinson would like to get the incarceration numbers down by steering nonviolent offenders--a majority of the juveniles under the agency's care--into programs to help them deal with problems of substance abuse, mental health or educational deficiency. He may be making progress--the incarceration numbers are down about 12 percent since he took over.
In pursuit of his treatment-and-training approach, Robinson has entered into formal collaborative agreements with the state's major universities and with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Such efforts, along with plans to beef up his case management staff, are going to cost more than a strict "lock 'em up" strategy. Juvenile Justice has received double-digit budget increases the past two fiscal years, and Robinson plans to come back for more. Even his critics give him points for moving the department in the right direction, although some in Annapolis say it's time for the honeymoon to end and for some tangible results to appear.
Early next year, Robinson will have something big to show them. About a mile from his downtown Baltimore office, a new 144-bed facility is going up that will house under one roof not just juveniles but the social workers, public defenders and judges who work with them. It will be the agency's first new building in 27 years and epitomizes Robinson's movement toward a more holistic way of dealing with offenders. "I'm building a continuum of alternatives," he says. "When you put all those together, I think we'll see some results."