- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 8, 2013

On a summer night in August 2011, Osman Al-Akbar was doing what teenagers do — bicycling home after visiting his girlfriend’s house. But before the 19-year-old got there, he encountered Rashid Caviness-Bey, also 19, and two other teenagers near Girard Park in Northwest D.C.

Al-Akbar, a youth offender committed to the custody of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, was talking with his girlfriend on his cellphone. He would never see her again. He was shot three times in the back and a fourth time in the face, for reasons that have never been explained.

Caviness-Bey, convicted and sentenced last week to 27 years in prison, and another boy involved, a minor with the initials D.H., also were DYRS wards, according to court documents and interviews with law enforcement officers and family members.

DYRS youth being involved in homicides is not a new phenomenon. Roughly half of the hundreds of DYRS wards are placed in community settings for rehabilitation until they turn 21 or otherwise complete the terms of their commitment. During the five-year period from 2007 through 2011, some 53 such youth offenders determined to pose a “high,” “high-medium” or “medium” risk of re-offending were either killed or found guilty of killing someone else, according to agency statistics obtained by The Washington Times.

Now, DYRS Director Neil A. Stanley has reported that the recidivism rate among this population has decreased, a development that drew praise from city leaders.

But Mr. Stanley’s Mid-Year Public Safety Update did not disclose that since 2011, partly through court diversion of troubled youths to other city programs, the DYRS population has been cut almost in half. The one-page report makes only scant mention of the “decrease in the number of youth under DYRS supervision,” saying that the reductions in arrests “outpace the population decline.”

The report also did not acknowledge that the department does not track recidivism of wards after their commitment ends — which means DYRS’ success in rehabilitating youths is difficult if not impossible to assess, said D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the Human Services Committee, which oversees DYRS.

Mr. Graham said the D.C. Superior Court Family Court has “dramatically reduced” the numbers of youths being committed to DYRS since 2010 and 2011 and that young adults 18 and older are “aging out of the DYRS system at twice the rate of youth entering the system.” Such trends have reduced DYRS’ committed population from 1,100 in January 2011 to fewer than 600 this year, according to city records.

Referring to the 26 percent decrease in the rate of youth recidivism, Mr. Graham said, “I think it would have been more accurate for the agency to include its population figures over the last six to eight quarters, and the number of youths actually placed in community settings during the same period so that the larger context would have been understood.”

Carol Abrams, a spokeswoman for DYRS, said the department has no way of knowing how many juvenile offenders the courts have diverted to other city programs and defended the department’s reliance on community placement as consistent with national trends.

Superior Court Associate Judge Zoe Bush, who oversees placement of juvenile offenders, refused requests for an interview. Grace Lopes, a court-appointed monitor of DYRS as part of a consent decree in a decades-old class-action lawsuit, did not return calls for comment.

In addition to calling for more transparent reporting by Mr. Stanley, Mr. Graham has directed DYRS to establish a structure for tracking youths’ successes and risks to public safety after their commitment has ended. From January 2012 through March of this year, DYRS closed 527 cases, none of which has been tracked or monitored, according to a human services committee report.

“I am recommending 6-, 12-, 18-month reviews, post-commitment, to ensure the progress the youth made while with DYRS is sustained,” he said. “Without these 6-, 12- and 18-month reviews, there is absolutely no way to assess to what extent the DYRS rehabilitation efforts are working.”

Law enforcement sources involved in Osman Al-Akbar’s case said that he was not in a gang, was working toward a general equivalency degree and was striving to attend college — like his sister and girlfriend.

On a visit to Caviness-Bey’s Northeast home last month, a young woman came to the door holding a baby she identified as his. She said she was pregnant at the time of the murder and that her boyfriend’s involvement left her “confused and angry.” She said he had been wearing an ankle bracelet designed to track his whereabouts and that he was “not supposed to be out.”

But she described Caviness-Bey as a positive person who was always smiling and said he had a job and comes from a good family with two working parents. She did not know what kind of supervision he received from DYRS.

“Even though they’re in [DYRS], they still end up getting in trouble,” she said.

The status of D.H., who remains in the juvenile system, could not be determined. The parents of Al-Akbar were not available for comment.

Of the murder, and the failed rehabilitation of Caviness-Bey — and, apparently, D.H. — Mr. Graham, in whose ward the killing took place, said, “It is indeed a tragic and sad case for all families involved.”

• Jeffrey Anderson can be reached at jmanderson@washingtontimes.com.

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