- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 10, 2012

A D.C. Council member is raising questions about the frequency of assaults at the city’s juvenile detention facilities after two recent attacks on officers by youths.

From March 3 through May 12, 68 fights and assaults were reported at the New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Laurel, according to figures provided by D.C. Council member Jim Graham’s office.

A May 5 brawl at New Beginnings, the secure facility for committed youth that is run by the District’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), involved six youths from two separate housing units. In April, six separate incidents were reported in one day.

“I think we can all agree that there is something very wrong here,” Mr. Graham said, adding that the model program in Missouri on which New Beginnings is based has nowhere near the same number of assaults.

Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the Human Services Committee that has purview over DYRS, wrote to DYRS Director Neil A. Stanley last week seeking more information on the incidents after two officers working at the department’s Youth Services Center in Northeast were assaulted.

The assaults occurred June 4 as two officers investigated the smell of marijuana coming from a youth’s room, an official from the officers union said. As the officers tried to conduct a room search at the center, a secure detention facility for youth awaiting commitment proceedings, the youth attacked them with a pair of handcuffs.

“They had to rush them to the hospital,” said Takisha Brown, head of the union that represents DYRS officers. One of the officers chipped two teeth in the scuffle and another needed stitches in his mouth, Ms. Brown said.

DYRS spokeswoman LaShon Beamon said she could not discuss the assault as the investigation is ongoing. She also could not confirm the number of assaults at DYRS facilities this year.

In the past 90 days, Ms. Brown said the union has counted 11 assaults on officers at New Beginnings and 10 at the Youth Services Center.

“We’re noticing they are happening more frequently with the officers,” Ms. Brown said of the assaults. “Nothing is actually being done to the youth, so it seems they are getting away with the assault.”

Part of the problem, she said, is that the youths often move out of the Laurel facility within several months — released back into the community or into group homes in the District — and it becomes difficult to bring them back to Maryland courts to face any charges.

According to the report provided by Mr. Graham, the combined number of incidents at New Beginnings includes 34 altercations involving staff members that were initiated by youth. Twenty-four of the total 68 incidents reported resulted in injuries. A full count of the number of assaults so far this year was not available.

To be better equipped to deal with incidents at the facilities, the officers union has asked DYRS leadership to form a safety review board to assess proper protocol for officers’ response during chaotic situations. DYRS leadership has yet to address officers concerns, Ms. Brown said.

Ms. Beamon did not respond to questions about the officers’ concerns.

The Washington Times has reported that more than 50 D.C. youths in the custody of the city’s juvenile justice agency either have been killed or found guilty of killing someone else in the past five years and the majority of them had been categorized in advance as posing a “high,” “high-medium” or “medium” risk of committing another offense.

Hundreds of other youths with similar risk factors remain on city streets, according to figures obtained by The Times, in part because of a lack of secure facilities to hold them and because officials think confining them jeopardizes their chances for rehabilitation.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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