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Former federal prosecutor Robert Hildum, named interim DYRS director in July and the third to lead the agency this year, has harsh words for the agency he inherited from former director Vincent N. Schiraldi, a nationally known figure in the world of juvenile justice who just six years ago presided over a complete restructuring after the agency had become a national disgrace.

Mr. Hildum, whose future at the agency is uncertain given the upcoming change of administration in city government, discussed a review he conducted while working as a juvenile prosecutor in the city attorney general’s office of cases in which DYRS wards were accused of homicides.

“The conclusion we saw was that they were lacking in oversight, they were lacking in services. There didn’t seem to be any consequences for noncompliance. They seemed to reward noncompliance,” he said.

Mr. Hildum said some agency employees dismissed the results, telling him the 16 cases he reviewed out of the roughly 900 youths overseen by DYRS were “statistically insignificant.”

“I thought that was a horrible answer,” he said.

Statistics in waiting

DYRS is responsible for some 900 wards who have been committed or incarcerated because they were convicted of serious crimes as a juvenile. About 70 of those reside at the city’s New Beginnings Youth Development Center in the Maryland suburbs, a $46 million secure facility that replaced the infamous Oak Hill juvenile jail. Some 130 are housed in the D.C. Jail, either serving a sentence or awaiting trial. And about 200 juvenile wards of the city are housed in residential treatment facilities across the country - yet they eventually return to their communities, as Chicquelo did.

Which leaves the vast majority of DYRS wards, including youths like Chicquelo, living in agency-approved situations in the D.C. area, with family members or in group homes or halfway houses. A recent report by the District’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG) outlines several reasons why that population - more than 500 youths who already have had run-ins with the police, suffer from mental disabilities or addiction, or have shown violent or self-destructive tendencies - are virtual statistics in waiting.

In its July report on DYRS operations, the OAG found that in assessing the risk factor in a youth’s life DYRS does not require “a thorough review of the facts involved in each instance in which the youth was arrested.” In Chicquelo’s case, he had been in trouble with the law in a neighborhood known for drugs and violence since he was 14.

Placement in a secure residential treatment facility indicates that a youth is a chronic violent offender or has a medical or mental health issue that requires behavioral therapy and skills training. Because DYRS does not own any such facilities other than New Beginnings, which houses less than 7 percent of the city’s committed youth, Chicquelo became one of 200 DYRS wards who were placed out of state.

The problem, according to the OAG report, is that DYRS appears to adhere to arbitrary limits as to how long it will keep a youth in residential treatment. “Little consideration is given to the violent nature of a crime, criminal history, family resources (or lack thereof) or likelihood of rehabilitation,” the report states.

Perhaps more alarming is that the OAG report cites a general refusal on the part of DYRS to look into each case and “to consider the facts of a youth’s criminal history” before making a decision about placement outside a secure facility: “DYRS procedures and practices favor release to the community without regard to the youth’s needs, prior criminal acts or potential for re-offending.”

‘They fell in love with him.’

To those who knew him, Chicquelo was an even-tempered, well-liked youth. He wasn’t the type to initiate a conversation, but he was not one to shy away either.

Chicquelo’s Pop Warner football coaches recall that he took his performance on the field - and his appearance - seriously. The coaches say that while in Queen Creek, Ariz., at Canyon State Academy, he was getting the help he needed, working toward a high school degree and excelling in football and track. “The Arizona people didn’t want him to leave,” said Benning Terrace Soldiers football coach Curtis “Coach Peedy” Monroe. “They fell in love with him.”

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