After six years of planning, the city government has taken initial steps toward building a new juvenile detention center in the District.
The city recently advertised for contractor's bids for the $8-million Receiving Home for Children in Southwest Washington. Bids for the multi-unit, 125-bed home will be opened at 3 p.m. March 20.
The home, which is expected to be completed in two years, will be at 4701 Blue Plains Drive SW in the Blue Plains complex, which now includes D.C. Village, a city-run senior citizens home; Potomac, a job corp training center, and the District police and fireman training academies.
Plans for the new juvenile center call for a single-story unit for administrative offices, a school and gymnasium. Running parallel to the unit will be four, split-level buildings with room for about 30 children in each building. Children will have individual rooms that can be locked at night to provide security and privacy for the residents. Added security measures will include electornically controlled entrances and exits, mini-scaled windows, partial fencing of the complex and a security sound system.
Unlike the old receiving home, the new facility is expected to have a comprehensive education program that will provide a minimum of five hours of instruction daily, said Thaddeus Taylor, director of the city's youth services bureau. Courses will include English, social studies, language arts and other secondary level subjects, he said.
In addition, an outdoor recreation field will be used for soccer, football and baseball, said Taylor, and the gymnasium can be used for sporting events. The entire complex, to be operated by the Department of Human Resources (DHR), will accommodate a maximum of 125 children.
The home will be financed with $5.4 million appropriated by the city six years ago. The additional funds still are being sought by DHR.
Guy Naper, deputy director of DHR's institutional services at the Cedar Knoll and Oak Hill institutions in Laurel, Md., said the home, along with other local resources, eventually will be used for all childrend who must be confined while awaiting final court decisions on their cases.
"The plan when we open the new home," he said, "is to take the children at Cedar Knoll and Oak Hill and place them in detention in the city." Naper said detained children will remain in Washington at the receiving home, group homes or their own homes as they await final court action on their cases.
William Barr, director of the city's social services agency, said youths at the receiving home probably will be confined an average of 45 days. He estimated that it takes that long to go through the court process from police arrest to final commitment. First offenders would be released more rapidly, he said.
While extolling the expected efficiency and convenience of the proposed receiving home, DHR officials conceded that, at present, they do not have the staff to run the facility as planned. Naper said detention stafff in the institutions in Maryland will be reassigned to the receiving home.
Barr said 148 people will be needed to run the home. He said there are an estimated 97 people working in detention now and DHR has requested funding for 51 additional positions.
Although funds for the detention center were appropriated six years ago, various bureaucratic problems have held up its construction.
"We were having a difficult time with getting money and planning to get the new receiving home built," said Naper, who was director of the old home in the early '70s. "The original one was planned in 1971 for 225 beds." sub-committee reviewing the proposal decided the facility was too big, said Naper. In an effort to resolve the issue Naper said Congress appropriated $6 million to build a 125-bed home, but the following year Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) convinced the city to delay the project.
Bayh had wanted the city to test the feasibility of its present juvenile detention facilities and explore other alternatives, before committing itself to confining more children, said Naper.
Meanwhile maintenance and services at the old receiving home had deteriorated so drastically that in 1973 it was closed as a receiving home. Now it is a holding facility and children are not to be kept there more than 24 hours.
DHR's 1977 statistics indicate that 5,609 children were held at the receiving home that year, and 1,016 children were held at Cedar Knoll and Oak hill. Cedar Knoll, the city institution now burdened with numerous staff and program shortages and maintenance problems, held the largest detained population, 929 children.