While D.C. officials search for two young escapees and debate whether they should place juvenile offenders in out-of-state facilities, two South Carolina legislators are looking into the types of youths being placed on their turf.
Rep. Christopher J. Murphy and Rep. Harry B. "Chip" Limehouse III, Republican members of the South Carolina House of Representatives, said they were surprised to learn that a facility in their corner of the state housed potentially violent offenders from the District.
Delonte Parker, 19, remains on the loose after he and three other wards of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) escaped Wednesday from the Palmetto Behavioral Health in Summerville, about 25 miles from Charleston. Three of the young men were caught by Dorchester County sheriff's deputies the next morning.
"I live about a quarter-mile from the facility," said Mr. Murphy, who served on the Dorchester County Council for eight years before his election to the House. "It's a highly urban area, with nothing more than one subdivision after another. I didn't even know the place existed until I heard about the escape."
Mr. Limehouse, whose Charleston district is just south of the Summerville area, said that the youths' presence was "news to me," and that local residents are more confused than angry.
" 'Why are we dealing with other people's problems?' That's the reaction," Mr. Limehouse said. "We've got enough problems of our own."
He also raised an eyebrow over security at the facility, which consists of a backyard-style wooden fence with two feet of lattice on top.
"I could get over these fences," said Mr. Limehouse, who described himself as 6-feet-3-inches tall and weighing 290 pounds.
The escape occurred two days after another DYRS ward, 18-year-old Treyvon Carey, beat a corrections officer at New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Laurel, used a ladder to hop a razor-wire fence and drove the officer's car to the Barry Farm section of Southeast. He also remains at large.
DYRS is responsible for more than 1,013 youths, with 225 of them placed in about a dozen states, Director Neil A. Stanley said at a news conference Thursday.
The recent escapes prompted D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Human Services that has oversight of DYRS, to call for a closer look at out-of-state placements. When placed far away, the youths are separated from their families and have no network to support them, he said.
Meanwhile, South Carolina legislators won't be wasting any time when they head back into session Tuesday.
Mr. Murphy pledged to speak to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to explore age limits and restrictions on the type of young offenders placed in South Carolina. He will consider legislative remedies, depending on the "answers I receive or don't receive."
Mr. Limehouse said he has similar questions.
"These are not your garden-variety kids in trouble," Mr. Limehouse said of the D.C. wards.
Spokesman Thom Berry said he did not know whether Mr. Limehouse had contacted the agency, but said it would "more than happy" to address his concerns.
Mr. Berry said the agency has limited oversight over Palmetto, a private facility, although it does serve permit and regulatory functions at the site. Palmetto is a contract services provider for DYRS, which said the center offers in-treatment programs for adolescent males with sexually aggressive behaviors, substance-abuse problems and psychiatric, behavioral or conduct issues.
Under state regulations, the Palmetto facility is required to report incidents only if a person requires hospitalization or dies, not if someone escapes, Mr. Berry said.
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