Albert P. Russo, director of the Department of Human Resources (DHR) assured D.C. Corporation Cousel John R. Risher last week that DHR would not jeopardize the city's LEAA funding by defaulting on a program to deinstitutionalize the city's youthful offenders by Aug. 1.
At stake is $200,000 in LEAA funds that the city received under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act program.
The grant requires that at least 75 per cent of the city's status offenders (youths considered truants or parental discipline problems) and PINS (People In Need of Supervision) be removed from correctional institutions to community care facilities by Aug. 1. Otherwise the city would have to return the $200,000 to LEAA.
Status offenders have been housed in Maple Glen, a detention facility in Laurel, Md, that the city is seeking to close by the deadline.
"I have assured and reassured Mr. Risher during the past three months that effective no later than Aug. 1, no youths classified as status offenders, either committed to us by courts for care or custody, or remanded to us by the courts for detention purposes shall be institutionalized," said Russo after his meeting with Risher.
"I've assured him that come Aug. 1, Maple Glen will be closed. I gave Mr. Risher this assurance again.
"I appreciate his concern about the deinsitutionalization of PINS. I certainly respect his position to see that nothing jeopardizes the District government's receipt of its fair share of LEAA funds," Russo added.
He said DHR has devised an alternate care plan to provide for 100 per cent deinstitutionalization if status offenders by Aug. 1. The plan was presented in the meeting but will not be announced publicly until next week.
At that time, Russo said, he will hold a press conference to discuss the administration of the program, where the youngsters will be placed, the future of Maple Glen employees and the status of DHR's 12 existing youth group homes.
Arthur Jefferson, executive director of the city's criminal justice plans and analysis office, described the plan as satisfactory and said his office would "be in close contact" with DHR about it.
"We're very close to 75 per cent now," said Jan Kirby, a juvenile justice planner. "As of Friday we were four kids off from 75 per cent deinstitutionalization."
Kirby said additional group homes have already been opened and only one or two more would be needed.
In recent months, DHR officials have said community opposition has hindered their efforts to put the program into effect. In two years they have opened only one home for PINS, the New Group Home located at 82 V St., NW. Twelve girls from Maple Glen were transferred to that home in May.
Various community groups have said, however, that they have offered DHR help in placing the Maple Glen youngsters.
In February, the Ad Hoc Committee on Deinstitutionalization, a group of child care workers and child advocates, was formed to help the city close Maple Glen and place children in community-based facilities.
Judith Gourse, a representative in the D.C. office of the National Coalition for Children's Justice (NCCJ), is a member of that committee.
Gourse said the committee has met with Russo and presented informal surveys of places they know are available in community-based facilities. She said that DHR has not taken advantage of the help they have offered.
"It would be for the good of the kids for the private agencies and DHR to work together," she said. "DHR hasn't planned a variety of services to meet the variety of kids. We would like to work with them."
Member organizations of the ad hoc committee include The Bureau of Rehabilitation for the National Capitol Area; For Love of CHildren; Special Approaches in Juvenile Assistance, and the Washington Streetwork Project.
Youth are referred to DHR in two categories; youths remanded by the courts for detention pending court action, and status offenders committed to DHR for care. Within the past year, Russo said, 60 to 120 PINS have been in both categories. In former years as many as 240 have been at Maple Glen.