D.C. Council concerned by lingering troubles at DYRS

The District’s juvenile justice agency needs to provide more substance-abuse treatment options for its troubled wards and drastically improve its communication with parents of young people housed as far as Utah, a D.C. Council committee says.

Members of the council’s Committee on Human Services acknowledged during an oversight hearing Friday that the Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services has made strides in responding to some security concerns at the agency’s youth detention center and has taken a tougher stance against gang tagging at its facilities.

But the agency’s progress is counter-weighted by lingering concerns about the shuttling of youths among facilities across the country — severing ties with their parents — and continuing troubles tracking youths who abscond from their assigned locations.

Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, reiterated his concern that DYRS Director Neil A. Stanley has a “wonderful formal education, wonderful experiences,” but not enough experience in juvenile justice.

“It pains me, it just hurts my heart — yours, too — to see these people not taken care of the way they should be taken care of,” Mr. Barry told committee Chairman Jim Graham on the dais. “I think Mr. Stanley needs to set a standard — that if you want to work at DYRS, first of all, you’re not there for a job, you’re there to do a job.”

Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, inquired about 84 job vacancies at the agency, $1.6 million in unspent funds and the high number of youths who flee from DYRS custody.

DYRS officials said hiring and procurement freezes implemented by Mayor Vincent C. Gray last year took tolls on the agency, and while electronic monitoring has helped track wards, even more needs to be done.

“I think DYRS must know where every, single young person is at all times,” Mr. Stanley told the committee.

Mr. Graham noted that juvenile justice is a “split system” in the District, with about 1,800 youths on probation through the D.C. Superior Court and more than 900 committed to DYRS, which has a budget of $107 million for the current fiscal year.

The council member also pressed two primary contractors, or “lead entities,” that distribute funds to the community partners who deliver services to city youth.

Mr. Graham told one of the lead entities — the East of the River Clergy, Police, Community Partnership — he was dismayed that about three-quarters of its budget was spent on nondescript “mentoring and monitoring,” while less than 1 percent went to substance abuse treatment.”You may have a great case for this spending, but you’re not making it,” he said.

Mr. Stanley agreed that the agency has fallen short in certain areas, including liaison services for parents.

“What is often lost, unfortunately, is there are success stories,” he said.

He outlined new strategies to keep dozens of groups homes accountable — including new “scorecards” — and touted new programs on barber skills, the culinary arts and other trades at New Beginnings.

He said new metal doors have been installed to rectify security problems at the facility, which was hailed as state of the art when it opened nearly three years ago but has been plagued by complaints it is too small and marked by youth-on-staff attacks.

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