D.C. councilman says youth detention facility 'too permissive'

Local,Courtney Zott
A long-troubled facility that treats the District's most serious youth offenders is "too permissive," according to D.C. Councilman Jim Graham.

The New Beginnings Youth Development Center, a 24-hour secure detention facility for the city's most troubled youth, isn't cracking down enough on its residents, Graham said Wednesday at a budget hearing for the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. This has led to a rash of violent incidents over the past year between juveniles and facility security guards, as well as a concerning cycle of returning offenders.

Half of the 51 young people who completed a rehabilitative program last year at New Beginnings were rearrested after they left the Laurel facility, according to Graham, D-Ward 1.

"That doesn't count as success to me," he said.

Last April, a ward of the facility "brutally beat" a Youth Development Representative and was able to carry a ladder all the way across the grounds to eventually escape over the barbed wire fence. Just two weeks ago, the facility finished adding new locks on the doors of its residents' rooms under a $1.95 million capital improvement project.

"For several years we were supposed to have a secure facility, but in fact people could come and go as they please," Graham said at the hearing.

A mental health psychologist familiar with DYRS services said this is because the agency has been too focused on treatment in its facilities, and not out. Especially at New Beginnings, whose occupants are housed at a daily cost of $761. Dr. Eric Trupin, director of the Division Public Behavioral Health and Justice Policy at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said DYRS needs to look at family therapy and substance abuse programs for its participants once they leave group homes or detention centers.

"It would be a better use of taxpayer dollars to buy those programs," he said.

The agency's director, Neil A. Stanley, said they have been working to combat this issue with a program called DC Youthlinks, which provides mentoring services, job support and education support to youth committed to DYRS.

Several youth testified at the hearing that DC Youthlinks has greatly changed their lives for the better. But despite the success, Graham said there's still much work to be done.

"This doesn't mean juvenile crime is coming to an end in the District," Graham said. "It's still a serious problem."

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