Stiffer disciplinary measures are being considered for youths who escape from Oak Hill, the District's maximum-security juvenile detention facility in Laurel, city officials announced yesterday.
Announcement of the measures came after recent reports that 30 percent of the youths there have escaped and that those who are recaptured seldom spend any additional time at the facility.
Officials at the D.C. Department of Human Services and Office of the Corporation Counsel said a number of changes in the disciplinary practices were being considered in an effort to deter escapes, including asking judges to extend the period of confinement for youths who escape and modifying a court consent decree to allow Oak Hill counselors greater discretion in imposing punishments.
At the same time, officials from Anne Arundel County, the site of the facility, complained yesterday that police there had not been notified of many of the escapes. The county officials said they planned to request a meeting this week with District officials.
"The elected officials here are extremely upset," said Zeke Zylwitis, public safety aide to County Executive O. James Lighthizer.
The proposed review of disciplinary measures was the second corrective action announced this week by District officials in response to reports that 60 of the 197 youths on the official attendance log last Thursday, including two charged with murder, were listed as escapees from the 20-acre facility ringed by razor-wire fences. In addition, 110 escapes from the facility have occurred since January, according to officials.
On Monday, Vernon E. Hawkins, acting commissioner for social services announced new security measures, including installing a sophisticated alarm system and hiring more guards.
Mayor Marion Barry met yesterday with officials from the Department of Human Services, said press secretary John C. White. "The mayor said he was unhappy upon hearing the news of the number of escapes," White said.
J. Shawn Ortiz, spokesman for Marion Jerome Woods, acting director of the Department of Human Services, said yesterday that preliminary discussions were under way in the agency and with the Office of the Corporation Counsel to determine how to change current disciplinary procedures that appear to have created an environment in which youths feel free to escape. A review of internal escape reports from the last seven months shows that many of the escapes involved the same youths and that youths who are recaptured are rarely required to spend a longer period in confinement.
Although escape is not a separate offense in the juvenile criminal code, judges can extend a youth's sentence at the scheduled release time, but sources said yesterday that Oak Hill officials rarely ask judges to take such action.
Youths are supposed to be locked in their rooms for punishment only if they have committed a major offense or are a danger to themselves or others. The maximum period of room confinement is limited to five days for a major infraction, such as an escape attempt.
"We are looking at ways to secure the community as well as ensure those individuals who are somewhat at risk of fleeing that we don't make it an easy thing to do," Ortiz said. "The community cannot have a whole heck of a lot of trust for their government if we allow children to escape who also happen to be murderers."