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“As Deputy Mayor Otero [has] noted, public safety and the safety of the children in its care are DYRS‘ top priority,” spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said in an email. “From 2008 to 2011, there were a total of 1,928 unique youth committed to DYRS.

“This means that less than 1 percent of the youth committed to DYRS from 2008 to 2011 were found guilty of [or involved in] a homicide, and [less than 2 percent] were victims of homicide,” Mr. Ribeiro said.

Mr. Graham challenged the Gray administration’s stated priorities. He pointed to the three people charged with the killing of Robert Foster on the day of the Caribbean Festival in June who were either under DYRS supervision or had just completed their supervision, and another case in Ward 1, in which a DYRS ward who had just been returned to the community by the agency’s Community Review Panel is said to have fatally shot another DYRS ward.

Just as disturbing, Mr. Graham found, is that more than 100 youths destined for residential treatment facilities because of risk factors, drug abuse or specialized therapy for crimes such as sex offenses were first placed in community settings.

“I am concerned that those 102 young people that were originally placed in the community prior to secure placement may have picked up new charges and in some cases adult charges,” he said. “They are now in more trouble than they were when they were first placed with [DYRS].”

One or two bad cases?

Predicting outcomes for youths can be misleading, some analysts say. The Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reports that juvenile arrests for violent offenses declined 10 percent between 2008 and 2009. Between 1994 — when violent-crime arrest rates for juveniles hit a historic high — and 2009, the rate fell nearly 50 percent to its lowest level since at least 1980.

Yet the percentage of overall crime attributed to youths in general has remained problematic.

Advocates in the juvenile justice arena insist that attempts to calculate suspects or victims of youth homicides while in the custody of an agency for juveniles are misguided.

“It’s like saying that people who are in the hospital are more likely to be sick than people who aren’t,” said Joseph B. Tulman, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, who is a member of the advisory board to DYRS and director of the Took Crowell Institute for At-Risk Youth.

Like Ms. Otero, Mr. Tulman and his fellow advocates prefer to talk about evidence-based treatment outcomes — not the dozens of lives lost or ruined while under the care and custody of DYRS.

“We all know that one or two bad cases has the potential to tear down the greater successes of this agency,” Ms. Otero told a room full of advocates in December, before a panel discussion about transforming the District’s juvenile justice system from a punitive to a more rehabilitative model.

Public perception is not all that is at stake.

Last year, the family of Neil Godleski, a Catholic University student who was killed in 2010 by a DYRS ward who had walked away from a group home, sued the District for $20 million in damages. Though the District has been dropped from that lawsuit, the group home operator, Associates for Renewal in Education Inc., remains a defendant.