Nonprofit closes Karma Academy
Last resident removed from facility as of Saturday
The Karma Academy in Rockville, a residential treatment center for teenage boys, has closed.
KHI Services Inc., the Germantown-based nonprofit that runs the academy and other programs around the state, said last week that it voluntarily and permanently closed the house after increasing complaints from neighbors and legislators prompted state juvenile justice officials to cease all referrals to the academy in March.
During a KHI board meeting following the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services' decision, board members and staff decided to close the Karma Academy altogether, said KHI executive director Roger Larson. The last boy residing there was moved to another house at the end of last week, he said.
Residents of the Rockshire Neighborhood Association met the decision to stop sending juveniles to the Karma Academy for Boys with relief and trepidation.
"When I heard there weren't going to be any more referrals to Karma, I thought, OK, that's good,'" nearby resident Nick Abid said.
He did not want to comment Monday about KHI closing the academy.
KHI did not formally announce its decision to close the Karma Academy.
"I was not aware they voluntarily ceased operations," State Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville said Monday. "I anticipated [Karma] would cease due to lack of referrals.
Ron Rivlin, manager of the Juvenile Justice Services division of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, said KHI's decision is not surprising.
"I suspected KHI would close [Karma]," he said. "If the facility was filled to capacity, they probably wouldn't voluntarily close. Given the reduced lack of referrals they were getting, they weren't going to sustain itself financially."
The closing impacts KHI Services in mixed ways, Larson said. It allows KHI staff to focus its attention on the start of two new outpatient services at its Germantown office, he said. But "a ripple effect" is being felt at the Karma Academy's sister facility, Karma at Randallstown, located in Baltimore County, he said.
"We have to exercise some cost-saving issues at Randallstown," Larson said.
Although the Karma Academy building in Rockville will no longer house juvenile offenders, it does not mean the building will be abandoned, he said.
"If there's an opportunity to open another type of program, we are open to suggestions," Larson said.
The Karma Academy, at 175 Watts Branch Parkway, was a 13-bed program for boys ages 14 to 18. The program had accepted youths who are sexual offenders, but stopped including sexual offenders within 30 days of an Oct. 7 community meeting with state juvenile justice officials, administrators from KHI Services and city police said.
That meeting was prompted by community concerns that three boys being treated at the academy left without permission.
Residents of the academy were not locked down as they would be in a detention center, but the boys were not allowed to leave without permission, Karma Academy officials told the community at the fall meeting. The academy was supervised around the clock.
Simmons said the state Department of Juvenile Services announced its decision to cease all referrals to the academy March 23. In a statement to The Gazette, juvenile justice officials wrote that "concerns expressed by local legislators and community members" was the basis for its decision.
Controversy involving the Karma Academy began October 1, when a Rockshire resident sent a cautionary e-mail to her neighbors, alerting them of a Gazette article mentioning that the Karma Academy treated juvenile sexual offenders.
Within a week, the neighborhood association met with KHI, city police and Department of Juvenile Services representatives. By the end of the meeting, state juvenile officials decided to remove the juvenile sex offenders from the Karma Academy within 30 days.
On Oct. 12, members of the Rockshire Neighborhood Association attended the Rockville City Council meeting to petition for a buffer zone and better vigilance of the Karma home.
In November, the city facilitated a meeting between the Rockshire association and representatives from Karma Academy and KHI Services.
KHI has operated the home out of its Rockville location since 1972, not long before the Rockshire neighborhood existed.
The house sits at the edge of Woottons Mill Park, which some residents say they find unsettling.
"There are woods and creeks located in the park where people could hide," Abid said.
"It is our understanding that when the home was dedicated, there probably weren't any other homes around," Larson told the Rockville City Council on Oct. 12.
Residents grew anxious again when Karma reported a sexual assault involving two of its residents to Montgomery County Police on Feb. 25.
Rockville City Police and Montgomery County Police did not provide details of the report.
Upon learning of the incident, Rockshire residents began sending e-mails to state and local officials, including Simmons, requesting a meeting to readdress the situation at Karma.
Rockville City Police Chief Terence N. Treschuk said city police has received "quite a few" reports from Rockshire residents complaining about the Karma Academy.
Some of the concerns included the teenagers walking away from the program without permission.
"Karma reports, we respond," Treschuk said.
According to city police reports provided to The Gazette, Rockville police received 56 calls about the Karma Academy from January 2009 to last month. Of the 56 calls, 23 were to report missing juveniles. Treschuk estimated that between 85 to 90 percent of those calls were made by the facility's staff.