- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A D.C. Council committee’s confirmation hearing on Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s pick to lead the District’s troubled juvenile justice agency began Wednesday with one member declaring that he would not support the nominee.

Council member Marion Barry said at the outset of the proceedings that Neil A. Stanley does not have the relevant experience to lead the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) and will not get his vote.

“It’s not personal. It’s not personal at all,” Mr. Barry said. “It’s just I have a commitment to try and help these young kids.”

Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat and a member of the Committee on Human Services that held the hearing, referred to DYRS as a “failed system,” citing the plight of young minorities in the District.

“It’s just horror story after horror story,” Mr. Barry said.

Recent escapes, violence against DYRS employees and a revolving door of agency leadership in the last year or so loomed large in the opinions of more than 20 witnesses who testified in support of or against Mr. Stanley.

Mr. Stanley said he is “deeply committed” to the safety of DYRS employees and the public. He said an April 18 escape at the New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Laurel was a preventable breach and failure on the part of the agency but pledged security upgrades and initiatives such as graduated sanctions beyond the ones now available.

Mr. Stanley also assured the committee that gang tags have been erased and will continue to be removed from the walls and items at New Beginnings.

DYRS, he said, is well-positioned to strike the right balance in philosophies between youth justice and rehabilitation.

His supporters included the school director at New Beginnings and the lawyer overseeing the Jerry M. class-action suit that prompted court monitoring of the city’s juvenile justice system.

Those in favor of Mr. Stanley’s nomination noted that “change does not happen overnight,” and that Mr. Stanley is a stabilizing force for reform at the agency.

Council member Jim Graham said Mr. Stanley should feel good about the testimony.”I think the qualify of support you’ve received is very impactful,” the Ward 1 Democrat and human services committee chairman said.

The hearing took an unusual turn at the outset, though, when Mr. Graham delayed the start to speak with Mr. Stanley behind closed doors.

Mr. Graham, the chairman of the human services committee, said he needed to discuss videotaped footage of an escape on April 18 from New Beginnings that involved the severe beating of an officer. The council member saw the video for the first time Tuesday through an agreement with D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan.

“This is beyond my control,” Mr. Graham told attendees at the hearing, apologizing for any inconvenience. “Let me just say this is important information.”

Multiple council members could be seen in an adjacent hearing room watching the footage on a laptop computer.

Violent incidents at secure DYRS facilities have been a point of grave concern for the committee.

Some witnesses suggested the city conduct a national search for a new director.

Belinda Wiley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 383, said Mr. Stanley — whose tenure includes stints with various city agencies, including the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of the Environment, and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs — has a “transient and unstable” resume of floating among D.C. agencies.

Vanessa Dixon, a witness from the Doctor’s Council, said they are “terribly concerned” by Mr. Stanley’s nomination, claiming he supports unsafe practices, such as the premature release of city wards from secure placement.

And Tasha Williams, a liaison from the Fraternal Order of Police, said DYRS leadership has yet to demonstrate it can “take back the department from the youth.”

Witnesses in opposition to Mr. Stanley warned of more violence akin to the recent escape in Laurel.
In the incident, 18-year-old Treyvon Cortez Carey beat the officer and used a ladder and a boost from a fellow detainee to climb over a barbed-wire fence at the facility. He drove the officer’s car to the Barry Farm section of Southeast and remained on the loose for two weeks before his arrest, police said.

Days later, four D.C. wards walked away from a facility in South Carolina. Three were recaptured the next day, and a fourth was found in Laurel a week later.

And last Thursday, a pair of 17-year-old D.C. youths jumped from a third-floor window to escape the Alternative Solutions for Youth facility on 14 Street in Northwest. They remain at large.