- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

JESSUP, Md. U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer yesterday vowed to shut down the District's Oak Hill Youth Detention Center if escapes continue.

"If it is not secured, I'll make every effort to shut it down," the Maryland Democrat said at a ceremony here to seal an agreement requiring Oak Hill officials to notify local authorities of escapes. "These are young people alleged to have committed murder, alleged to have committed robbery, alleged to have committed rape. These are offenders who pose a threat to the people of this community."

The Washington Times first reported Jan. 21 that 22 of the 122 youths held at Oak Hill have escaped during the past nine months. They have escaped by climbing through holes in the fence or while in medical care, on trips or on furloughs. Seven are still at large, and one was found fatally shot in the District Dec. 3.

Mr. Hoyer yesterday pointed out that an Oak Hill escape in November occurred through a hole in the fence in the same area where inmates had escaped in May. "What concerned me most is the second escape replicated the first," he said.

He made his comments during a ceremony in which D.C. Human Services Department officials agreed to contact local police and communities near Oak Hill about escapes. The agreement replaces another pact that expired in 1999 that required notification of police.

Oak Hill is located near Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County. The U.S. Park Police has jurisdiction over Oak Hill because it is on federal land.

Mr. Hoyer said Oak Hill officials in the past notified local police hours after escapes occurred, adding that the new pact requires immediate notification.

Oak Hill employees blame the escapes on mismanagement that has caused low morale and high absenteeism.

Ray Szypinski, 72, and Ray Smallwood, 57, who each live about two miles from Oak Hill in Cottage City, said they have had enough of the escapes at Oak Hill and believe the best thing is to close the facility.

"I don't think D.C. cares about it because it is not in their borders," said Mr. Smallwood, a building contractor.

"I'm concerned about myself, my family and my neighbors," said Mr. Szypinski, who is retired.

Mr. Szypinski said he was alerted to the escape in May when he saw a helicopter searching near his home more than four hours after the youths escaped through a hole in the fence.

A study ordered by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams recomended a new facility be built at the current site or in the District. But Mr. Williams has not secured funds for construction.

Youth Services Administration (YSA) Administrator Gayle Turner said her goal is to have no escapes. She said the only reason she can speculate for the high number of escapes is the staff is not attentive.

Mrs. Turner said only two escape incidents have actually occurred at the facility while others have occurred while youths were away from Oak Hill on furlough, for medical treatment or on field trips. Mr. Hoyer said there is no difference because the youths pose a danger to the community.

Mr. Hoyer said he would look into how Oak Hill workers can directly file assault charges against inmates.

Oak Hill workers say that inmates assualt and threaten them regularly, but they cannot file charges without approval by management. An agreement between the Park Police and YSA requires Oak Hill managers, rather than the individual workers, to report assaults.

Mr. Hoyer said it is possible that the management could be trying to cover up the dangers in the facility by failing to report all assaults.

"We need to look into that," he said.

The workers said they believe many of the escapes are caused by a lack of discipline imposed on the inmates.

They said the inmates know they can get away with assaulting staff and escape with little or no punishment.

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