Five months after the District's self-imposed deadline for closing its minimum-security juvenile detention center in Laurel, Md., the number of youths there has quadrupled and officials are reopening cottages because of a dramatic increase in drug-related arrests, according to city officials.
"More kids are coming through and being detained for drug charges than we ever experienced in the past," said Audrey Rowe, D.C. commissioner for social services, who operates the city's three juvenile facilities. "Last June or July, we were down to 20. We've had to open back up three cottages . . . . "
The city had vowed to close Cedar Knoll by July 1, after the D.C. Public Defender Service filed a lawsuit claiming conditions at the facility and at nearby Oak Hill, a facility for youths who have been sentenced, violated numerous city codes and federal laws.
The increase in the number of juveniles arrested on drug charges comes at a time when city officials also are detaining more youths while they await the results of drug tests and city prosecutors are successfully urging judges to incarcerate more juveniles because their previous arrest records are now quickly produced by an improved computer system.
Youths are currently in detention for an average of six months while awaiting trial, Rowe said.
A police spokesman, while unable to give statistics on the increase in juvenile drug arrests said, "There has been a dramatic increase. Selling drugs seems to be a very lucrative business for more and more juveniles, and they are repeat offenders."
Leslie Cooper, supervising institutional officer at Oak Hill, said, "We are almost sure more kids are being delayed in courts and more are being arrested on drugs . . . . "
An arrest on a drug-related charge usually means a longer detention because attorneys generally want the alleged drug tested, a process that takes about six weeks, an official in the public defender's office said.
"We have about 167 youths at Oak Hill," Cooper said. "Our capacity is 150. By Tuesday we will probably have to open up our fourth cottage at Cedar Knoll."
For the staff the reopening of cottages means "excessive work on an overtime basis," said Cooper. "We've been understaffed at Oak Hill for some time. The average overtime is 40 to 50 hours every two weeks for each worker."
Youths sent to Cedar Knoll eat breakfast there and on weekdays are bused to Oak Hill to attend school until 3 p.m. and returned to Cedar Knoll for dinner.
Rowe also attributes the increase in detainees to the corporation counsel office's improved computer system. City attorneys can now quickly determine if a youth has a previous arrest record and should be detained.
"The systems are increasingly sophisticated," said Michael Cobb, chief of the juvenile section of corporation counsel's office. "Once a kid could come in and people in three different rooms could be handling cases on him and none of them would know about the other charges."
"In October the number of kids at Cedar Knoll was down to 20, then it shot through the roof," said Patricia Quann, D.C. youth administrator. "We're looking at our options. We're looking at the possibility of expanding bed space at Oak Hill. We've got to get out of [Cedar Knoll].
"We have opened three additional shelters -- about 30 spaces -- and they're full," said Quann. "The 30 spaces at the receiving home are full and we still have a problem. We need to have an understanding of whether we're looking at a longtime change or something temporary."