- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The crisis response to a recent detention facility escape and beating of a corrections officer by a ward of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) was led by interim Director Neil Stanley, who faces tough questioning this week from a D.C. Council oversight panel about his ability to lead the troubled agency.

But as noteworthy as Mr. Stanley’s hands-on management in the early morning hours of April 18 was the absence of two key figures who agency sources say would have been responsible for restoring order at New Beginnings Youth Development Center, where the beating and escape occurred.

Deputy Director Barry Holman was away on approved leave, DYRS officials said, and unavailable to assist. Jeffrey McInnis, director of detained services who reports to Mr. Holman, was home recuperating from a gunshot wound he sustained in a recent robbery attempt.

Despite whether the absences of Mr. McInnis or Mr. Holman were understandable, DYRS employees said the escape, which was followed by an escape of four DYRS-committed youths from a South Carolina residential treatment center days later, underscores a fragile agency overseen by Mr. Stanley, who awaits confirmation as DYRS full-time director.

Experience at the top of the agency and widespread perceptions of an overly therapeutic philosophy shared by Mr. Stanley’s top advisers figure to be the topic of questions on Thursday by Ward 1 council member Jim Graham, who has expressed doubts that DYRS has struck a proper balance between rehabilitation and detention.

Mr. Stanley declined to be interviewed, but his chief of staff, Christopher Shorter, said the interim director is not wedded to any particular philosophy of youth rehabilitation. Mr. Shorter said there have been no executive-level changes since Mr. Stanley took over.

As the media scrambled last month for answers about how Treyvon Cortez Carey, 18, reportedly beat a guard at New Beginnings, climbed over a razor-wire wall and fled in the guard’s car, Mr. Stanley personally took control at the locked facility and directed the staff response, agency sources said.

Such assertiveness by Mr. Stanley, a lawyer and government bureaucrat who has worked at a variety of agencies, was necessary because Mr. Holman was unavailable, said DYRS sources who spoke anonymously to avoid reprisals for speaking to the press.

Mr. Holman is an advocate for the rehabilitative model favored by former DYRS Director Vincent N. Schiraldi, which favors putting youths in less-restrictive surroundings. Sources who have worked with him say he has been a driving force in the internal debate at DYRS about how to manage the agency’s more than 1,100 wards.

In the past five years, Mr. Holman’s salary has increased from $85,000 per year to $135,000 per year, according to internal correspondence obtained by The Washington Times, prompting Mr. Graham to suggest to DYRS officials that the deputy director’s position “should be abolished,” the correspondence states.

“I’m looking for revenue to fund the necessary services of DYRS,” Mr. Graham said in a recent interview. “DYRS has not struck the right balance with respect to those services, and that cuts to both Mr. Holman and Mr. Stanley.”

Mr. Graham said he is concerned that DYRS spends more than $900 per committed youth per day, but seems to lack the ability to control a frequently violent population dispersed in communities in the D.C. area and facilities across the country. “I want more bang for that buck,” he said. “I’m in favor of rehabilitation, but we need to acknowledge that these are dangerous young people. I don’t see the vocational training or the mental health care or the substance abuse treatment or even gang intervention that we need to make rehabilitation a reality.

“I need to hear from Mr. Stanley,” the council member continued. “I expect my confidence level will come out at the hearing on May 5.”

The absence of Mr. McInnis during the recent crisis response tested Mr. Stanley and his top advisers, multiple agency sources said. A corrections veteran and superintendent of the DYRS Youth Services Center, a detention facility for youths awaiting commitment proceedings, Mr. McInnis has the specific expertise that some DYRS employees say is lacking within Mr. Stanley’s inner circle.

It is unclear when Mr. McInnis will return to work.

“The agency responded swiftly and decisively immediately following the escapes,” Mr. Shorter said, pointing out that all of the recent escapees have been detained again, and DYRS has increased its staffing levels. “We work hard to make sure the community is safe and rehabilitation is occurring in a thoughtful way.”

But a DYRS official said Mr. Stanley and his inner circle, some of whom come from law and public management backgrounds, “may be smart people who want to do well, but they do not have the political savvy, toughness or the hands-on facility or programming experience to do the job.”

Another DYRS official said D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray should be concerned about the lack of practical experience at the management level, and challenged the general perception that “people can just transfer over from other walks of life and do this kind of work. … When that escape happened, we really needed Jeff McInnis, but we didn’t have him around.”

If he is confirmed as full-time director, DYRS officials say, Mr. Stanley will have to bridge philosophical differences within the agency about the rehabilitative mantra of Mr. Schiraldi and the national youth advocates who hail him as a champion of juvenile justice. As the April 18 escape and beating and the South Carolina escapes unfolded, those sources said, cracks in the foundation of Mr. Stanley’s team began to show.

Meanwhile, other challenges exist that DYRS officials have hesitated to disclose. For instance, DYRS relies on youth placements at a residential facility near Richmond to backstop New Beginnings, which houses 60 youths, a DYRS official said. The Pines Residential Treatment Center has housed up to 25 committed D.C. youths at any given time, the official said. But because of a licensing issue, DYRS has halted referrals to the Pines, Mr. Shorter confirmed on Tuesday.

“We have a host of other options for residential, group home and secure facility placements,” he said.

One such group home, Rest Assured LLC, also in the Richmond area, until recently housed three D.C. youths who walked away April 22, were arrested by Chesterfield County Police and detained once more at a nearby locked facility. No further details about what prompted the arrests were available.

“We’re doing the best professional job we can,” said Mr. Shorter. “Reshaping an agency this size takes time.”