The District government agreed yesterday in D.C. Superior Court that for the next 10 days it will not house residents in kitchen facilities at Oak Hill, a District juvenile detention facility in Laurel, after disclosures that a fire in a stove had injured several youths last month.
On Nov. 28, a fire broke out in an oven that was the only source of heat in a former kitchen at Oak Hill, where six juveniles had been housed, according to documents filed in court by the D.C. Public Defender Service, which was seeking an order to prevent such housing.
The juveniles "were locked in" and "had to bang on the door and yell to get the attention of a staff person to assist in putting out the fire," according to the court documents. Five of the youths received burns on their arms as they tried to extinguish the fire, the documents said.
In an affidavit filed in the case, a 16-year-old boy said that the youths "sleep crowded together on the floor," on thin mats with rodents running around the room.
During a hearing before Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, a lawyer for the District argued that the youths were housed in the former kitchen as an emergency measure "because of a sudden influx" of youths sentenced to the facility and that they had been moved to a dormitory last night. The District opposed a court order, but Urbina urged the government to make a binding promise in court that the kitchen would not be used again for 10 days, when a hearing is scheduled on a more comprehensive lawsuit filed by the Public Defender Service.
That suit claims that conditions at Oak Hill and Cedar Knoll, a second detention center, violate numerous city codes and federal laws.
After the hearing yesterday, Patricia Quann, D.C. youth administrator, said the stove had been removed immediately after the fire, and added, "The idea of getting warmth in the room obviously overrode people's knowledge that you're not to be using a stove for heating."