D.C. juvenile justice chief Robert Hildum steps down

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 7:16 PM

Another juvenile justice chief is out in the District.

Robert Hildum, the third person in less than a year to lead the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, announced Wednesday in an e-mail to staff that he is stepping down after five months heading DYRS.

The news of Hildum's departure caps a difficult year for the agency and underscores the challenges the next mayor will face in fashioning policy amid the unpredictable politics of juvenile justice.

Previously the city's chief juvenile prosecutor, Hildum said in the e-mail that he will be returning to his post as the public safety chief in the D.C. attorney general's office.

Barry Holman, Hildum's deputy, is expected to be named interim director, according to two government sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision had not been officially announced.

It was not known whether Holman - who was a senior official under Hildum's ousted predecessor, Marc A. Schindler - would be considered by the incoming administration of Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray for the permanent job.

Installed in July in the shake-up that forced Schindler out, Hildum had hoped he would be named the permanent director by Gray. But last week, according to a government source, Hildum received a letter inviting him to stay on as an interim director and to apply for the permanent job - a sign that he was unlikely to be Gray's choice to lead the agency.

In his e-mail, Hildum did not try to couch his disappointment, saying he was departing with a "very heavy heart." Hildum declined to comment further, saying he would let the e-mail speak for itself.

From the outset of his brief tenure, Hildum had faced opposition from a number of camps. Critics of the Fenty administration saw him as a surrogate for Attorney General Peter Nickles, who directed Hildum and others in the attorney general's office to conduct what would become a controversial review of the department's performance.

Juvenile justice advocates saw Hildum's background as a prosecutor as a threat to the direction of juvenile justice reform and blamed him for an increase in overcrowding at New Beginnings, the long-term detention center that opened last year in Laurel to replace the notorious Oak Hill Youth Center.

But Hildum also had supporters inside and outside DYRS, who said he brought a new focus to the agency and in particular to the long-standing lack of high-quality services for the hundreds of young offenders being supervised in the community.

A string of high-profile crimes, beginning with a deadly drive-by shooting in March on South Capitol Street, thrust those shortcomings into the spotlight just as Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) was entering the homestretch of his reelection run. Suddenly, every homicide involving a young victim or perpetrator became fodder for critics of the agency, even when, in some of the cases, it played little or no role in their supervision.

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