D.C. Superior Court Judge Gladys Kessler yesterday refused a request from city lawyers to postpone implementation of her court order that requires major changes at the District's two institutions for juvenile offenders.
Kessler said further delays in improvements in care and treatment at the two facilities, known jointly as the Children's Center, would only cause further "untold suffering and lost opportunities" for the juveniles incarcerated there.
The D.C. corporation counsel's office immediately took Kessler's decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals and asked that all action in the case be delayed pending that court's consideration of the order.The corporation counsel's office represents the city's Department of Human Resources, which administers the Children's Center.
In her order, released Aug. 7, Kessler directed the department to draw up plans to improve nursing and medical care at the institutions, to renovate dormitory facilities and to institute procedures to review complaints from children about any raported physical or sexual abuse by staff members. The order also required the department to improve training programs for personnel and to expand its staff.
Kessler set deadlines for submission of the plans to the court - the first of which is Wednesday.
Kessler's decision followed months of hearings involving the city and lawyers from the Public Defender Service, who represented the children held at the two institutions - Cedar Knoll and Oak Hill - which are in Laurel.
The city, however, now contends that Kessler had no power to issue the order because no specific case was brought before the court. The corporation counsel's office contends Kessler overstepped her authority, carried out an unwarranted intrusion of the court into the business of the city government and did not set forth specific reasons for ordering the changes.
Kessler, in denying the city's request for a delay, said that by its participation in lengthy hearings about the case, the city "voluntarily submitted to this court's jurisdiction."
Kessler also noted that the Department of Human Resources has already agreed to take some of the actions called for in her order.
"The pulic interest of the citizens of the District of Columbia is not served - indeed it a gravely disserved - by the incarceration of children at the Children's Center without providing the 'care and rehabilitation' to which those children are entitled," Kessler said in her order.
"Ultimately each and every one of them will be released to the streets of the District. At that time, we will pay the real price if our institutions have failed them," Kessler said.