Continued from page 2

It didn’t hurt the investigation that detectives found a trail of footprints in the snow leading away from the house beneath a bedroom window.

In the District, juvenile cases are decided by judges, not juries. And decisions about placement of youths found guilty of crimes lie with officials at DYRS.

The group home, and a handful of others in the city like it, are where an increasing number of youths are housed since the closure in 2007 of Oak Hill, the District’s infamous juvenile jail once located in Laurel, Md. Since then, and the opening of the New Beginnings Youth Development Center on the former Oak Hill campus, DYRS officials - and particularly former Director Vincent N. Schiraldi - have emphasized community-based placement alternatives to jailing youths.

But signs are increasing that oversight of and services for such high-risk youth are sorely lacking. And the numbers facing community-placement alternatives are too big to ignore.

About 500 juveniles - juveniles like Dominick Payne - are left to either home placement, non-public residential treatment centers or group homes such as Dupree House. At any given time, 65 to 70 of them are unaccounted for.

‘It drives me crazy’

A report on DYRS‘ performance released this summer by D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles in the wake of the noticeable uptick in homicides involving wards of the city suggested that the agency’s practice of returning juveniles to the community was putting dangerous offenders back into D.C. neighborhoods.

The report said youths were often moved through group homes and into home placement with little consideration of their backgrounds and few benchmarks for progress.

DYRS officials don’t discuss the circumstances of youth in their custody. Dominick’s mother referred questions about him to his public defender, who declined to comment on any aspect of his case.

But documents obtained by The Times show that he had an extensive history of arrests.

After an arrest at 14 years old for cocaine possession, he faced charges that included shoplifting, theft, distributing marijuana and unauthorized use of a vehicle. His police report lists him as an alcoholic. He had made several stops at DYRS detention facilities, and records indicate he had a history of fleeing from custody, including an escape from a transport vehicle while he was assigned to New Beginnings.

“It drives me crazy,” said Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, when asked her feelings about cases such as Dominick‘s.

“As hard as I work with great elected officials and good strategies and information sharing, I can do nothing to stop those cases,” she said. The reason is because, until recently, DYRS officials had been averse to sharing information about juveniles and their records with police - even information about when a youth in their custody is placed in the community.

“If no one tells me when a violent offender is put back in the community, I can’t protect people,” she said.

The police chief says that, in addition to Mr. Nickles’ criticism about the city’s emphasis on releasing juveniles into the community, DYRS has to provide a “good analysis” of which juveniles are fit for community placement.

Story Continues →