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“If you look at the DYRS offenders who commit murder or were murdered themselves, you have to take some stock in what their criminal history is,” Chief Lanier said.

She says she believes in community placement and insists she doesn’t want to just lock up kids. She advocates an approach she describes as “surgical.”

“Only when we’re talking about violent offenders,” she says.

Still, as D.C. Council member Tommy Wells points out, there’s a wariness to just “put away” even violent youths.

“People want them locked up in adult jail, but we know they’ll come back more violent,” said Mr. Wells, chairman of the Committee on Human Services, which has oversight of DYRS.

But at a recent hearing discussing DYRS performance, Mr. Wells acknowledged that the agency’s ongoing troubles are frustrating the public.

“I also think that the number of youth, especially over the past couple years, who have either committed murder or been murdered has reached a level that our community will not tolerate,” he said.

‘Abscondence’

Shortly after Mr. Nickles issued his report in July, interim DYRS Director Marc Schindler resigned. In January, Mr. Schindler had replaced Mr. Schiraldi, who left to take a job in New York City in the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Mr. Schindler was then replaced by Robert Hildum, a former federal prosecutor who began working for the city attorney general’s office in 2007, where he was in charge of juvenile prosecutions.

Mr. Hildum’s appointment prompted fears among juvenile justice advocates that reforms in recent years would be jeopardized and that the agency would begin to emphasize incarceration over rehabilitation.

Asked about Domo’s escaping from Dupree House and Mr. Alexander’s killing, Mr. Hildum declined to comment about a specific case. But he said “abscondence” - either fleeing a group home or evading the oversight of a case worker - is a serious concern.

He added that he was “very concerned” about the abscondence rate and that he has made finding absconders a priority. In his first two months, DYRS and police found 87 absconders, compared with 53 who were located in the two months prior to his arrival.

“The view from the prior administration is that kids run, that’s what they do. I don’t agree with that,” he said.

Mr. Hildum also delivered a stark assessment of the agency he inherited, its 600 employees and its $91 million budget. He said officials found what he described as fictitious addresses in the files of some youths - meaning, no agency employees had ever visited the homes to verify whether the addresses were correct.

In practical terms, Mr. Hildum said there is no real-time reporting of compliance or follow up by DYRS when red flags emerge, such as a missed curfew or absence from school. He also said case managers who optimally should be handling 25 cases apiece currently oversee about 40.

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