- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2015

The District has contracted with a Virginia detention center to house some juveniles awaiting placement through the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services in order to avoid overcrowding at a city-run facility.

Under a $1.6 million contract — at a cost of at least $380 per person, per day — the District will house as many as 11 juveniles at the Fairfax County Juvenile Detention Center to “lessen the burden” at the District’s Youth Services Center, according to department officials and contract documents.

The city faced scrutiny in the past for overcrowding at the short-term juvenile detention center — with more than 150 juveniles at times housed at a facility that is designed to hold only 88 youth.

Fairfax was slated to begin accepting D.C. youth at the end of February, but the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, or DYRS, has yet to send any juveniles to the facility, according to spokesman Adam Aljoburi. The District to date has not spent any money on the initiative.

Youth advocates say the arrangement is not ideal because it would place juveniles outside the District, potentially making it more difficult for family members to visit them.

But the situation is better than overcrowding the Youth Services Center in Northeast, a secure residential facility for boys and girls in the system, said Daniel Okonkwo, executive director of D.C. Lawyers for Youth.

“I think DYRS is making lemonade here because they are saying ‘We have to have someplace to put children,’” Mr. Okonkwo said.

The Youth Services Center serves as a residential facility for youths in various stages of the juvenile justice system, from those arrested during overnight hours to those detained while awaiting the outcome of a court case, to others who may be awaiting placement in a shelter home.

As a result, overcrowding at the facility has proven particularly difficult for DYRS to manage because factors outside the agency’s control — such as judicial decisions or arrests — play a large roll in the day-to-day population.

The number of juveniles committed as wards of the city has dropped in recent years, from more than 900 juveniles in fiscal 2013 to the 459 juveniles that DYRS reported being under agency supervision in fiscal 2015.

But as youth come and go through the system, possibly to group homes, back to their families, or to other secure detention facilities — either the District-run New Beginnings or an out-of-state facility — only a portion can be accommodated at the Youth Service Center.

The facility is designed to hold only 88 youths — some of whom are ordered to remain at the facility by the court.

The most recent daily population report from DYRS shows that 75 juveniles were housed at the Youth Services Center on Feb. 16. But for the entire month of November, the population hovered at or above 95 juveniles — peaking at 129 youth on Nov. 16 after 15 youths were admitted following overnight arrests.

As officials note, the facility population can quickly fluctuate, as can the need for extra beds.

“Spikes can and may happen within hours and a need to house youth to accommodate these increases is necessary and must happen as expeditiously as possible,” states the summary of the Fairfax contract that was submitted to the D.C. Council for approval in December.

When the city does begin placing youth at the Fairfax site, it will pay a flat rate of $4,180 daily for the 11 beds and staffing, regardless of how many youth are placed there. An additional $109-per-day fee will be assessed for education costs only if a youth is placed at the juvenile detention center, Mr. Aljoburi said.

Under the agreement, only those youth who are awaiting placement at another secure facility will be sent to the Virginia site.

The average length of time a juvenile awaits placement in the DYRS system is currently 26 days, according to Mr. Aljoburi. Officials don’t expect any juveniles to be housed at the Fairfax facility beyond 30 days.

DYRS previously contracted with Boys Town Washington, D.C. to reserve 25 beds to alleviate overcrowding at a daily cost of $344 per youth, a 2013 contract shows.

DYRS spokeswoman Brenda Padavil said the agency stopped sending youth who were awaiting placement there because “Boys Town could not meet the hardware secure regulations.”

The $1.6 million contract with Fairfax runs through September but it is unclear how long the partnership between Fairfax and the District will continue.

Mr. Aljoburi said it is not possible to expand capacity at the Youth Service Center building because of its design, so it will not increase the 88-person capacity there. He said the District is currently exploring other options for housing youths awaiting placement, and said the agency would revisit the contract with Fairfax at a later date.

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