- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2010

Five teenagers loiter behind a scarred steel door that opens on the cramped foyer of a squat, brick apartment building, one of many in a warren of public-housing complexes in Southwest Washington. Their looks are vacant but their manner is confrontational.

It’s here, in this neighborhood ravaged by unemployment, crack cocaine and violence, that the District’s Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) would condemn 19-year-old repeat offender Chicquelo Abney for the last two months of his troubled life.

On paper, perhaps, it made sense. This is the apartment where his mother lives. But something is not right. The teenagers block the path to her unit, the very same unit where in September 2009 a foot chase ended when police found a young man hiding underneath the covers in one of the bedrooms and a baggie containing seven packets of crack in the bathroom toilet.

The young men in this dimly lit foyer are more than sentries, they are emblems of poverty and desperation. One is sprawled on the stairs, smoking a cigarette and talking on a cell phone, his eyes barely open. On the trash-strewn floor is an empty yellow glassine packet - the type commonly used in the distribution of hard drugs.

“What you want?” one of the boys says.

It’s here the city’s juvenile justice agency placed Chicquelo after he returned to the District last year from a residential treatment facility in Arizona. Not surprisingly he was arrested for selling crack on a nearby street later that year. Soon after that arrest, on Oct. 12, 2009, he was shot and killed a block from his mother’s apartment during what police say was an ambush gone awry.

Like an alarming number of D.C. youths, at the time of his death, Chicquelo was officially under the supervision of the city government.

An investigation by The Washington Times found that more than one in five D.C. homicides in a recent 12-month period involved a DYRS ward, either as a victim or a suspect. The investigation involved dozens of interviews, reviews of city and court records, and the detailed examination of cases like that of Chicquelo Abney, and found that at least 14 of the city’s 130 publicly identified homicide victims between Sept. 1, 2009, and Aug. 31 were under DYRS supervision at the time they were killed.

Trends in youth-related crime rates and fatalities are shrouded in the confidentiality of juvenile court records. Yet the review by The Times also found that of the 110 people publicly identified by police or prosecutors as being arrested for or charged with homicide in the District during that same time period, at least 15 were active wards of the city. Ten additional homicide suspects had previously been detained at a juvenile jail or been under DYRS care.

The figures do not include homicides that occurred in neighboring counties for which DYRS youths have been charged or were victims.

While violent crime figures and particularly homicide rates have plummeted across the nation in the past decade, the pattern of youth killings among a population under DYRS supervision has been one of the most persistent and troubling trends in the nation’s capital in recent years.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said the problem is particular to the District. Other cities, like Baltimore and Philadelphia, are struggling with recidivism among a population of adult returning offenders. But in the District, where juvenile justice reform ostensibly has been under way since 2004, youths are driving a spike in violence.

And it clearly frustrates the chief.

“I can give you a profile of a kid who’s on their way to being a homicide suspect or a homicide victim very quickly,” she said, citing a mix of social factors like inattentive parenting, difficulty in school and taunting by peers, truancy and early involvement in crime.

“These are kids before the age of 15 that are telling you they’re on the way to murder,” she said.

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