District officials are planning to take about 100 youths out of the troubled Cedar Knoll juvenile detention center in Laurel, which is being closed mainly for financial reasons, and will bring them back into the District over the next few months.
Under the plan, some would go back to their homes under the supervision of city workers. Some would go to 13 group homes for up to 10 juveniles each, which are throughout the city.
Those who are considered the greatest security risks will be taken to the Children's Receiving Home in Northeast, newly renovated as a maximum-security facility to hold 19 boys and 11 girls.
This plan is in a proposed consent decree, soon to be considered in D.C. Superior Court, which would modify a 10-year-old court ruling prohibiting more than overnight detention at the receiving home, said Patricia Quann, D.C. youth services administrator.
City officials and some youth advocates say the juveniles will be better served by this plan, involving more individualized programs, than by staying at the isolated 50-acre institution 45 minutes from downtown Washington.
"Community services gives us more of a chance to keep the juveniles out of trouble than shipping them out to Cedar Knoll for four months," Quann said. "They were just flowing in and out of that institution. Clearly, they were not getting what they needed to get back into the community."
"I think we have underestimated the attachments that kids have to their families," said Marty Beyer, a longtime youth advocate and consultant. "We have tended to removal . . . because the families are dysfunctional. That's a cop-out."
Last spring, the city started an individualized, intensive community services program for delinquents in their homes, including counseling with their parents. It is also geared to getting juveniles into the right educational programs and keeping them there, and Beyer said they "really blossom" with the attention.
Others are skeptical of the city's ability to control juvenile delinquents under these circumstances.
"They city officials are putting them juvenile delinquents out on the streets, back into homes that have not been supportive in the past," said Judith Tolmach of City Lights, a nonprofit group that deals with emotionally disturbed adolescents. "What are they doing to protect the community and the kids?"
"Group homes are a disaster, rife with PCP and staff turnovers," Tolmach said. "Disruptive, disturbed kids can overwhelm the staff. The kids run the show."
"Group homes are geared to cooperative persons," said Kenneth Rosenau, an attorney for a number of juveniles who have been through Cedar Knoll. "It's by no means secure at the homes . If they want to run away, they walk out the front door."
Quann said the juveniles would not be a danger to the community. Those at Cedar Knoll are younger, less serious offenders. In addition, it was always easy for them to escape from the minimum-security Cedar Knoll and return to the city, she said.
In 1982, for example, there were more reported escapes from Cedar Knoll than there were juveniles there, Quann said. Most were easy to find and return, she added.
"At least I'll have somebody following them around every day now," and they will be in school programs, Quann said. Most of these types of delinquents are already in the community under supervision, she added.
Those returned to their homes will be assigned a case worker who will check on them at home, at school and at curfew time every day, Quann said.
If those convicted of charges get in trouble again, the city can send them to the Oak Hill maximum-security youth detention center in Laurel, which houses about 150 of the most serious juvenile offenders and is to remain open.
The closing of Cedar Knoll is only one example of deinstitutionalization at large District facilities. The city needs community facilities not only for juvenile offenders but also for about 365 mentally retarded still at the Forest Haven complex in Laurel, who must be removed under court order, and some of the mental patients now at St. Elizabeths Hospital.
Cedar Knoll has a long history of problems, including frequent escapes, staffing problems and reports of sexual assaults and drug use.
In 1978, after a six-month investigation of Cedar Knoll and Oak Hill, D.C. Superior Court Judge Gladys Kessler ordered a wide range of reforms at the facilities, including more meaningful education programs.
Kessler's order was overturned in 1981, but city officials said they had implemented most of the reforms anyway, including an independent, confidential system for juveniles to report allegations of abuse.
Critics of Cedar Knoll still say the education program has been grossly inadequate, that drug counseling is virtually nonexistent and that assaults go unreported.
"They don't teach you nothing," said an 18-year-old who recently spent nine months at Cedar Knoll following charges of burglary. He asked that his name not be used. He said he was in the seventh grade in D.C. public schools but was in classes in which he was taught things he had learned in third or fourth grade.
"My clients say they sit around and play checkers half the time" while at school, said Michael Stern, attorney for some of the juveniles there.
Quann acknowledged that the educational programs at Cedar Knoll have been inadequate and that the city was not in compliance with educational standards. This is part of why the institution is being closed, because the city was facing the possibility of expensive lawsuits over the lack of appropriate programs and staffing, she said.
The city also could not afford to maintain such a large facility with a dwindling population, which resulted in per-child costs of about $40,000 a year, she said.
The receiving home will have three levels of English and three levels of math once the Cedar Knoll inmates are moved there, Quann said.
The 18-year-old former resident added that drugs were easy to obtain at Cedar Knoll and that "everyone I know" smoked marijuana.
When he first got to Cedar Knoll, he talked with a psychologist, which is the routine there. "I told him I like drugs a lot," the 18-year-old said. The psychologist asked if he would go to a drug counseling program and he said yes, "but he never signed me up, so I didn't go," he added.
The city conducts a group drug counseling session once a week at Cedar Knoll.
"There is a lot of drug use , both staff and kids," mainly marijuana and PCP, said a source who works with juveniles at Cedar Knoll.
"In institutions, there is always this rap about drugs," and the city has done a number of investigations into it, Quann said. "You never find anything" involving staff, she said, but she added that "it is extremely difficult to crack" allegations that staff members use or provide drugs.
Juveniles are routinely tested for drug use when they return from weekend home visits, and some are caught trying to bring drugs in, Quann said. But the open campus setting at Cedar Knoll would make it easy to hide drugs there, she added.
The 18-year-old was sexually abused at the age of 8, and since his discharge from Cedar Knoll, he has been charged with a number of assaults on 9- and 10-year-old boys, said his attorney. No one at Cedar Knoll knew about his background of abuse or asked about it, and he did not mention it, the 18-year-old said.
Quann said this area needs further exploration. She said she believes there is a connection between sexual abuse of boys and delinquency that has been largely ignored, and she wants counselors to be trained to recognize signs of a sexually abused youth.
Most of the 19 buildings at Cedar Knoll are boarded up now as the number of residents has dwindled from about 500 at its peak a few years ago to about 100.
The facility is understaffed, and many workers have had to put in double shifts, Quann said. This has led to staff burnout and tremendous amounts of overtime costs, she said.
What will be done with Cedar Knoll has not yet been determined, though some have talked about turning it into a women's prison so District women would not have to go to the prison in Alderson, W.Va.
Many of the buildings at Cedar Knoll are falling apart, with bare pipes showing through fallen ceilings in some cottages, and boys' shirts and jackets are being used to stuff some holes in the walls where they sleep dormitory-style.
Juveniles who go to the receiving home in Northeast Washington will be put in small, single rooms in newly painted wings. There is an area for classroom instruction, a recreation area inside and bricked-in courtyards for outdoor recreation at the receiving home, where the youth services administration has its offices.