- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2005


The D.C. government yesterday created a new agency to care for young people in the criminal justice system, giving Mayor Anthony A. Williams more direct responsibility for reforming the city’s troubled juvenile programs.

The new Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services had been part of the District’s welfare agency. The agency chief now reports directly to the mayor.

Poor conditions at the city’s juvenile jail have been a problem for nearly 30 years. The District’s juvenile detention programs were placed under court supervision in 1986.

Yesterday, D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Rufus King III praised the city’s efforts to prevent juvenile crime.

“The time is right for this move,” Judge King said. “They mayor is putting his prestige on the line.”

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, nominated nationally known juvenile justice advocate Vincent Shiraldi to head the new department, starting Monday. City Administrator Robert C. Bobb began reforming the city’s youth services when he arrived in Washington in September.

Under the new structure, “we’ll be able to set our own priorities,” Mr. Shiraldi said. “We’ve got to deal with safety issues — some serious concerns about just basic safety issues.”

Another top priority is to evaluate the population of juvenile offenders and possibly place some with nonviolent offenses back into their homes with supervision.

The D.C. Council unanimously approved creation of the new department and voted to close the Oak Hill Youth Detention Facility in Laurel.

A report released in March by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General found numerous problems at Oak Hill, including marijuana and PCP being smuggled in regularly. A special arbiter was hired to oversee reform of the system.

City officials said the creation of the new department allows for fresh vision and leadership.

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