- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 7, 2011

Recent violence at the New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Laurel illustrates a fundamental problem with the District’s approach to juvenile offenders placed in residential treatment facilities, where “the youths are the boss” and “every kid knows this and acts accordingly,” D.C. Council member Jim Graham said on Saturday.

“I’m not satisfied with what is going on here,” said Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Human Services. “This is like a rest home for young thugs.”

Mr. Graham directed his comments to Neil A. Stanley, the acting director of the Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), who provided lengthy testimony on the agency’s efforts to strike “a better balance” between rehabilitation and discipline of young offenders.

Mr. Stanley laid out a long list of initiatives to improve incident reporting, treat substance abuse and reduce recidivism. He also touted collaboration with the Metropolitan Police Department and deputy mayors for human services and public safety.

“I firmly believe that our agency must do better,” Mr. Stanley said. “We must do better for our youth, we must do better for our staff, and we must do better for the public.”

Mr. Graham said he craved substance and assurance that a reportedly lax atmosphere at New Beginnings would be replaced with a system of consequences for violent acts.

“Is there a problem or not?” Mr. Graham asked, pointedly. “Speak to me plainly.”

“Yes, there’s a problem,” Mr. Stanley said, noting their views are “not too far apart.”

Mr. Stanley assured the committee that law enforcement will be contacted in response to any serious incidents at DYRS facilities.

Mr. Graham repeatedly challenged Mr. Stanley, who still awaits confirmation in the wake of escapes from New Beginnings and a facilty in South Carolina, about assaults on officers and reports that facility doors at New Beginnings are so weak that youths can kick them down at will. Mounting concerns come on the cusp of summer months, when violent crime and gang tensions among D.C. youth tend to rise.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray provides $107 million for DYRS in his fiscal year 2012 budget proposal, an 18 percent increase from this year. The mayor said he doled out $16.7 million in additional funds to account for an increase in committed youth.

Although Saturday’s meet-up was scheduled as a budget hearing, early testimony featured little talk of dollars and cents. Rather, it provided a window into internal frictions at DYRS and the characters and circumstances surrounding the recent escapes.

Mr. Graham delved into the April 18 incident involving Treyvon Cortez Carey, who severely beat a corrections officer at New Beginnings, found a ladder to hop the razor wire fence and drove the officer’s car to the Barry Farm area of Southeast.

Two days later, four D.C. wards ran off from a residential treatment facility in South Carolina. Three were apprehended the next morning; the fourth, Delonte Parker, was found a week later outside a CVS store in Laurel.

The incidents prompted Mr. Graham to question the wisdom of placing D.C.’s young offenders out of state, noting the lack of a support network when extra miles are placed between them and their homes.

Story Continues →