The Department of Human Resources (DHR) has advised Superior Court Chief Judge Harold Greene of plans to set up a "physically secure" facility for juveniles who have consistently run away from group homes, violated curfews or become involved in illicit sexual activities.
Greene was told that numerous problems have arisen in a city-run group home aid in two private homes that the bureau has contracts with since youth were moved to the city from Maple Glen, a detention center in Laurel, Mid. Maple Glen was closed in August under an agreement between the city and the federal government to take noncriminal offenders, such as runaways, truants and other ungovernable youths, out of institutions and place them in a community environment. Affected are young people under 18.
"Reports from these homes are less than satisfying," said a DHR report submitted to Greene. "The abscondence rate is alarmingly high. Night curfew hours, on the part of some residents, are requently ignored. Problems are most pronounced in the programs for girls in which cases of sexual acting out and even prostitution have been annotated.
"The closing of Maple Glen, therefore, represents not only the loss of institutional resources but its psychological effect as a deterrent is also lost. The Bureau of Youth Services gravely needs a physically secure . . . setting to provide external controls to those youths lacking the inner resources."
About 430 children are sent to juuvenile court annually ffyfyor noncriminal charges, according to a 1977 study by a former DHR employee. In previous years one-third of these children were held at Maple Glen to await court hearings. Currently, those awaiting hearings are sent home or held at city-run shelter houses, much like group homes. There are no figures available to indicate how many children awaiting hearings become disruptive and would be candidates for a secure facility.
DHR said that of the 99 children committed to its care, there are 15 assigned to group homes who are in need of a secure facility at this time.
Proposed plans for the facility may include using the Receiving Home for Children and would require a change in a 1974 decision, by Greene, which restricts the holding period at the receiving home to 24 hours, said DHR official Thaddeus Taylor in a letter to Greene. Other suggestions included establishing a secure home in the city or using Cedar Knoll, a city institution for delinquents in Laurel, Md. Taylor's letter was accompanied by the agency's report on the proposed suggestions and behavior at the group homes.
Commenting on DHR's recommendations, Greene said: "It's not a matter that's under the control and direction of the Superior Court. The decision as to what to do with (incorrigible youth) rests basically with that department, except possibly if they use the receiving home."
Greene agreed that use of the receiving home would require modification of his 1974 decision that the jail-like center was an improper holding place for criminal youth and no juvenile was to be held there for more than 24 hours.
"Now they would have to show that it's suitable place for (noncriminal offenders)," said Greene, ". . . and it would have to be done in court, not on the basis of someone's letter."
The DHR report also noted that "several" juveniles recently under DHR's care for noncriminal behavior had been court-ordered into residence at the receiving home for periods in excess of those outlined in Greene's decision.
Recent news stories reported that a 9-year-old boy, a chronic runaway, had been housed in the home for four months.
Expressing what he said was his personal opinion, and not the court's, on the proposal for a secure holding facility, Greene said: "I think other things need to be explored first before we put them (noncriminal offenders) in the receiving home or some other secure facility. Basically I think these (children) haven't committed any crimes. Just because someone expresses the opinion that it is difficult to (control them) I don't think that's sufficient reason (to lock them up). Lots of things are difficult."
The department's recommendation was applauded by Superiror Court Judge John Fauntleroy. Fauntleroy said some DHR officials knew they would need a secure back-up facility even before Maple Glen closed. "But their hands were tied from higher-ups." he said.
"We need a secure facility, make no mistake about that. We've had instances where those young girls found out they closed Maple Glen and they went running up on 14th Street. They stopped complying with group home rules and I had to put them in Cedar Knoll. I had no other choice.
"I've had quite a few of them. They were just acting out and felt nobody could do anything to them."
Fauntleroy said his orders to Cedar Knoll always directed that the youth should not be co-mingled with criminal offenders, which would violate a D.C. code statute governing juveniles. Fauntleroy said he has sent some young people to the receiving home.
Mary Shine, a former Maple Glen supervisor, said a secure facility would acts as a way station to allow a homeless or disruptive youth to "get a hold of himselft and then move out into the community" before he or she got into more trouble.
"My concern is that there needs to be some place kids can be protected from themselves," said Shine.
Shine is also director of a three-person diagnostic unit that they youth services bureau created last November. Part of the unit's job is to pinpoint the social and family problems of incorrigible youth, make referrals for psychiatric services and screen group home placements, she said.
Donald L. Hudley, administrator of one of the private contract houses, said he supported the need for a secure facility because the home occassionally received one or two youths they could not help.
"From time to time we come in contact with residents who won't go by the rules," he said. "Sometimes people get a little unruly and want to challenge people to fight. We've only had one incident of that though."
We would prefer to use every possible means to keep them in the community," said Thaddeus Taylor of the disruptive youth. "In some cases (their) behavior is not up to standards."
Advocates for the youth suggest this may be because the DHR group homes are not addressing the children's problems.
"I don't think we can lock kids up in any kind of facility until we can find out why the kids are failing in the open community programs," said Judy Gourse, member of a local child advocacy group, the D.C. Coalition for Children.
Echoing similar sentiments was Debby Shore, another coalition member and director of the Sasha Bruce House, a private, coed group home which also houses DHR clients.
"I'm aware there've been a number of problems with people in the homes. It seems to me that it's not clear that there is an adequate range of services made available to youth that will meet their needs in a community-based setting," she said.
Also unclear is whether DHR can, in fact, create a secure facility for incorrigible youth that will not violate the city's funding agreement with the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). Under LEAA guidelines, the city's noncriminal juvenile offenders had to be out of institutions by August. However, LEAA rules also prohibit the placement of these status offenders in secure facilities, except for "security rooms" within an open facility.
The LEAA office explained that these rooms could either be guarded, or locked, to keep residents from leaving without permission. Such a room would be used only in an emergency situation, guidelines said, "and would have to be monitored to insure it is not used in excess."