- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

Two top officials at the Oak Hill Juvenile Detention Facility were promoted despite a rash of inmate escapes during the last nine months.
Clifton Pollard, a security supervisor known as "the chief," and Nate Williams, deputy superintendent of college life and operations, both received grade promotions in the midst of all the escapes. The Washington Times reported this week that in that time, 22 of the 122 youths in the custody of Oak Hill escaped by cutting through fencing, running from an outing or a medical examination, or failing to return from furlough.
Located in Jessup, Md., Oak Hill houses D.C. youths who have been found responsible for violent crimes, including murder, rape and armed robbery.
Mr. Pollard and Mr. Williams did not return telephone calls made to their office at Oak Hill.
A D.C. Council member yesterday protested the promotions, saying that instead of rewarding officials, they should be replacing them all of them.
"I think this is ridiculous," said Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat and chairman of the Committee of Youth Children and Families. "I don't know under what criteria they were promoted, but since they had other escapes, the promotions should have been taken back or stopped."
Mrs. Allen also said that top managers of the Youth Services Administration (YSA), which oversees Oak Hill, should be replaced if they can't improve security at the juvenile detention facility and improve services for their inmates.
"If they cannot provide a secure place for our people, there needs to be someone else in charge," Mrs. Allen said. "Six months after the first escape, I can't believe the children could go back to the same hole [in the fence to escape]. That just blew my mind. I was promised security was tightened and the hole had been fixed."
Other D.C. officials defended Oak Hill's management.
Carolyn Graham, deputy mayor for children, youth and families, said Oak Hill's facilities are old and programs are not properly funded.
"The District has not had a juvenile justice system any of us can be proud of," Ms. Graham said during a teleconference with other city officials.
Carolyn Colvin, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, said she support YSA's management as responsive.
Ms. Colvin and Gayle Turner, administrator of the Youth Services Administration, said during the teleconference that they do not see a problem with escapes at Oak Hill.
The city officials also said a change in management at the facility is not necessary.
Ms. Graham, whose department oversees YSA, called The Times articles "scurrilous" and said the escapes could have been "sabotage," although she did not have evidence supporting that theory.
Mrs. Turner blamed any security lapse on the staff rather than management. She said that Mr. Williams, whom she said she promoted, had already instructed correctional officers to be more vigilant. She said Mr. Pollard is only one of many security supervisors.
"[Mr. Williams] had instructed staff to make the perimeter checks. To check the fence. He was not on site. He has documentation, " Mrs. Turner said.
Mrs. Turner said after inmates escaped through a hole cut in the fence in May, the fence was welded, and additional signs were installed forbidding entry into the area. She said the staff was told to watch that area more closely.
After the second escape in November from the same area, Ms. Turner said, additional barbed wire was installed and some cameras were moved to better secure the area.
Correctional officers at Oak Hill noted that officers have been fired, reprimanded and suspended, but there has been no shake-up in management.
Oak Hill Correctional Officer Robert Miller said that whenever they have problems at Oak Hill, correctional officers are fired, suspended or punished, while the officials are never held accountable.
"Management has to take part of the blame. They have to deal with the security issues we have out there," said Officer Miller, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police labor committee that represents Oak Hill correctional officers. "But they promote managers and fire the front-line staff."
He said correctional officers are not given the tools and the protection to control Oak Hill adequately. He said that the equipment is antiquated, and that the security guards hired to guard the outside of the perimeters have little training.
"We have poor equipment that has not been replaced. We have a fence line that is not properly patrolled and the fence is patched up," Officer Miller said.
One of the biggest problems, he said, is that correctional officers are forbidden from reporting assaults by juveniles against the officers or other youths. A supervisor has to approve all complaints.
Since Oak Hill is located on federal land adjacent to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, the U.S. Park Police would investigate any criminal act.
Officer Miller said that although officers are assaulted by the inmates, the assaults are rarely reported.
"We are constantly faced with officers being assaulted, but we can't do anything about it," he said.
Ms. Colvin confirmed that the agreement between YSA and the Park Police prevents employees from filing assault complaints, but that employees may file assault charges against inmates with the Metropolitan Police Department or with the state of Maryland. She said the employees know they can, but that they have not been instructed to follow those procedures.
"The staff and union know they have a right to file a complaint with MPD and with the Maryland police," she said.
Mrs. Allen said that policy needs to be changed for the safety of Oak Hill employees and its inmates.
"If someone beats you up, I think it should be usual where it is reported and not up to the discretion of the supervisor," Mrs. Allen said. "This is ludicrous."

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