Disarray at D.C. youth agency is endemic, records say

Squandered resources shortchanging young offenders

The D.C. agency charged with rehabilitating youth offenders has squandered and underutilized resources intended for youth services during a period in which dozens of managers have left or been forced out of the agency, according to legislative oversight documents obtained through a public-records request.

The Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) has “provided very little funding” for counseling and substance-abuse treatment for hundreds of juvenile offenders in its care, while millions of dollars in employment grants have gone unspent amid “countless turnover” among staff and supervisors who work directly with children, D.C. Council member Jim Graham wrote to Mayor Vincent C. Gray and others.

The troubled agency has struggled to manage and provide services to a population of youth who in recent years have been behind an alarming spate of violent crime in the nation’s capital. Recently, a series of sexual-assault charges against DYRS wards has complicated an already bleak reality — previously reported by The Washington Times — that in the past five years DYRS has placed more than 50 medium-to-high-risk youths in communities where they have either been killed or been convicted in a killing.

A recent DYRS report showed a majority of 180 youths studied who had been found guilty of a crime suffered from drug abuse or mood disorders, yet were sent back to D.C. neighborhoods where they were to receive services from local nonprofits funded by contracts and subcontracts with the city. Eventually, all the youths studied were transferred to out-of-state residential treatment centers (RTCs) because they had not received “adequate mental health, behavioral health, and substance-abuse treatment services,” Mr. Graham’s office wrote.

Mr. Graham, chairman of the council’s Committee on Human Services, was skeptical that the facilities could provide the type of treatment needed to rehabilitate the youths, according to the oversight documents.

“I have strong reservations, as does [DYRS [JUMP]Director Neil A. Stanley], on the effectiveness and sustainability of any rehabilitation services provided through the RTCs,” he wrote.

Yet out-of-state RTCs often are the only option as the District struggles to manage a population of 745 committed youths with just one 60-bed residential facility.

The December 2011 DYRS report that prompted Mr. Graham’s remarks shows that more than 76 percent of the 180 committed youths studied have some type of mood disorder, 60 percent have attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a related disorder, and 78 percent have some type of drug-abuse diagnosis.

Community placement of such a volatile population has proven problematic and led to disagreements and instability within the agency. The consequences for the public at large can be more dire.

One DYRS ward, 19-year-old Demarco Myles, was arrested last month in connection with the violent sexual assault of two women within the same week, and Brian Jamal Ford, also a ward of DYRS, was recently convicted for attempted first-degree sexual abuse while armed with a gun.

In the case of Mr. Myles, sources at DYRS say a caseworker was outspoken about warning against leaving him — and others — in a community-placement setting and was summarily terminated last month.

The employee, Ed Williams, a former workforce development and academic specialist, declined to identify any specific DYRS wards, citing confidentiality laws. But he confirmed he had been complaining about the DYRS practice of leaving unspecified numbers of youth in community settings where their needs are unmet and where they pose a danger to others.

One of the complaints that may have resulted in his termination, Mr. Williams said, involves unspent workforce-development grants and what he describes as a practice of fudging numbers to satisfy grantors, such as the U.S. Department of Labor.

The issue also came up in a Sept. 17 memo from Mr. Graham to Mr. Gray’s office, in which the council member said roughly half of a $4.4 million Labor Department workforce-development grant awarded 18 months ago needed to be spent by the end of this year.

Mr. Williams said that when DYRS fails to meet job-placement goals set by such grantors, the agency begins lowering the bar for youth participating in job-training programs.

“They let the kids take the tests with their books open, and they still couldn’t pass,” he said. “They let the instructors help and they still failed. Finally, they just passed them anyway. It’s an eight-week class, and they just starting fudging the results to try to burn through that grant money.

“I was very outspoken about my objections,” Mr. Williams continued. “The problem is trying to rehab these kids on the street. These services they are supposed to be getting are not working, and the [Council‘s] oversight committee is not managing the service providers.”

Asked about the documents obtained from his office and about the problems with DYRS in general, Mr. Graham’s office said the population of youths committed to DYRS has declined from 1,100 in January 2011 to 745 as of mid-October, and that the agency is pursuing stronger oversight of its community-based providers. The council member also pledged to monitor spending closely to ensure resources are properly directed toward rehabilitating committed youths.

The mayor’s office did not respond to questions sent via email, but in a letter to Mr. Graham, the mayor’s budget director disputed the underspending, insisting “the vast majority of the funds” are needed for payroll and outside contractors.

In relying on a practice of releasing youth into the community — by the hundreds, either before or after they have been sent to RTCs — DYRS has turned its monitoring and rehabilitation responsibilities over to a network of nonprofit providers that has proven inadequate in delivering behavioral-health services and drug-abuse treatment, according to Mr. Graham.

This system was spotlighted in a WJLA-TV News series earlier this year that looked closely at the network of providers, known as D.C. Youthlink. The series showed that, despite millions of dollars distributed to grass-roots providers by the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Corp., a nonprofit agency that works closely with D.C. agencies to develop partnerships that expand and improve technical assistance, job training and educational opportunities, DYRS failed to protect against possible fraud and ensure that quality services were being offered.

Without identifying any youth in particular, Mr. Williams pointed to DYRS efforts to obscure its shortcomings, such as placing a child with a third-grade reading potential into a workforce-development program, a service provider’s report on a youth’s activities that conflicted with the GPS data retrieved from the youth’s ankle bracelet, and the placement of an at-risk youth into the home of the youth’s mother who dealt drugs out of her house.

The end result for the wards of DYRS, according to Mr. Williams, is that even when they are sent to an out-of-state RTC, eventually they come home and “hit the street, right back to where they were in the first place.”

Then the DYRS cycle begins again, he said. “They fudge the numbers, try to make them work, then when their commitment is almost up, they leave them to the adult system. They do this constantly, all day long.”

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