Lawsuits target Maryland’s juvenile justice system with claims of child sex abuse

Sharon Iskra is the attorney representing dozens of plaintiffs alleging decades of child sex abuse targeting children in the Maryland juvenile justice system dating back to 1962. (Courtesy Bailey Glasser LLP)

They were told that no one would believe their claims of sexual abuse.

Now, four law firms are representing 50 plaintiffs in cases alleging that from 1962 through 2012, dozens of juveniles — one as young as 7 years old — were sexually assaulted at six facilities in the Maryland juvenile justice system.

Sharon Iskra is a partner at Bailey Glasser, one of the four law firms that filed suit.

Iskra handles cases of institutional abuse, from group homes to foster care — “anywhere where vulnerable people are victimized,” she told WTOP.

The suits come just as Maryland’s new law eliminating the statute of limitations in cases of child sex abuse went into effect. Previously, anyone who wanted to sue for damages in abuse cases had to file by the time they were 38. One of the clients represented by Iskra’s firm is 68 and the abuse in his case dates back to 1962, said Iskra.

“He finally has a remedy,” she said.

Iskra said while there are 50 plaintiffs now, “We have another 350 or so who’ve called us for help.”

The suit alleges the abuse took place at six facilities, including the Cheltenham Youth Detention Center in Prince George’s County; the Victor Cullen Center in Frederick County; the Charles Hickey School in Baltimore County; the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center; and two facilities that have since closed, the Montrose School in Baltimore County and the Thomas J.S. Waxter Children’s Center in Anne Arundel County.

Iskra told WTOP that the state of Maryland was acting in the place of a parent while the plaintiffs were in its custody.

“What we have here is a failure of the state to protect these children. The people that were put in charge to help them, hurt them,” she said.

Iskra said because the clients were in the juvenile system, they were told over and over again, “You’re a bad kid. You were placed here because you did something wrong. And no one is ever going to believe you.”

Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services emailed a statement to WTOP that read: “DJS takes allegations of sexual abuses of children in our care very seriously and we are working hard to provide decent, humane, and rehabilitative environments for youth committed to the Department. The Department is currently reviewing the lawsuits with the Office of the Attorney General.”

Iskra said the lawsuit is being filed because “There’s no way that we can put an institution in jail. The only remedy available to our clients is money damages.”

But she added, “We very much would like to see the individual perpetrators put in jail,” and she said the lawyers would “be willing to share our files and help the state in any way possible to make that happen.”

While the case against the state of Maryland continues, lawsuits naming the Archdiocese of Baltimore as a defendant have been put on hold.

The Friday before Maryland’s new Child Victims Act went into effect, the Archdiocese announced it was filing for bankruptcy.

On Tuesday, a federal judge granted a request to temporarily halt lawsuits against the diocese. The move means that abuse survivors would have to take their claims to the bankruptcy court.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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