At the Oak Hill Youth Center, the District's high security detention facility for juveniles in Laurel, the official log last Thursday showed that 30 percent of the 197 youths assigned to its eight dormitories were missing and listed as escapees.

Two of the 60 youths absent from the 20-acre compound have been charged with murder, while about 20 are accused of violent crimes and about 15 have been targeted by police as chronic offenders, according to a review of internal documents that include the names and status of the escapees.

Top officials of the D.C. Youth Services Administration said there have been 110 escapes from Oak Hill since January, many of them involving multiple escapes by the same youths. Most of those listed as missing fled this year and will be considered absconders until they are recaptured.

Although the center is patrolled 24 hours a day and enclosed by razor-wire fences equipped with sophisticated sensor alarms, confidential reports obtained by The Washington Post paint a picture of security at Oak Hill as often being ineffective, lax and chaotic.

Escape reports from the past six months show inmates routinely fleeing by cutting holes in the fences, stealing staff cars or door keys, jimmying fence alarms and running away from staff on medical or court visits, often while still in leg irons or handcuffs.

Staff and law enforcement officials blame the spate of escapes on a series of factors, including inadequate staffing, lack of sufficient school and recreation programs for the youths, sloppy supervision and inexperienced staff.

Jesse Williams, Youth Services Administration director, acknowledged in an interview that Oak Hill has a serious problem with security, but said major steps are being taken to halt the escapes, including expanding the guard force from five to 10 and adding 60 group leaders. He said a proposal to install a better alarm system also is under consideration.

"We've lost more kids than I have ever, ever wanted to lose," said Williams. "But {stopping the escapes} is a priority, and we have plans to address it."

In comparison, there were no escapes this year from the D.C. Jail or Lorton, District corrections officials said. Oak Hill is managed by youth services, part of the city's Department of Human Services, while the D.C. Jail and Lorton are operated by the Department of Corrections.

Usually juveniles are sent to Oak Hill as a last resort by a judge and must have been 18 years or younger at the time of their offense; they can remain there until turning 21. A number of inmates have long or serious arrest records and were placed previously in less restrictive facilities. Most of the escapees are in their late teens.

"If this were D.C. Jail, people probably would be up in arms," said Leslie Cooper, a senior institutional officer at Oak Hill who retired last week after 29 years of service.

Police officers assigned to round up the escapees said in interviews that there appears to have been dramatic increase in the number of escapes from Oak Hill in the past year. The conclusion is supported by a report released in June by a court-appointed monitor charged with overseeing program and staffing improvements promised by the District last year as part of an out-of-court settlement of a class action lawsuit.

The report noted that during a recent three-month period, there were 53 escapes from Oak Hill compared to only five in a similar period last year.

"It's like an open door up there," complained one police officer. " . . . We pick kids up one week and they're out again the next week."

Internal memos also provide an unflattering portrait of the staff's ability to stop the escapes. One memo complained about a vocational instructor who allowed inmates to "make weapons and pipes for smoking dope" and cited the lack of operable vehicles to give chase to escaping youths.

When nine teen-agers escaped Feb. 17, the center's only security car was unavailable because a staff member had driven it to downtown D.C. The deputy superintendent at the time was put on administrative leave after that incident, while the vocational instructor was transferred, according to Williams.

The latest escape occurred Friday afternoon when an inmate stole a staff car and rammed a hole in the fence.

The confidential escape reports include these accounts: On June 2, four youths, including two 16-year-olds accused of murder, scaled the fences and fled. The two murder suspects have not been recaptured; the other two were caught.

On June 25, a 17-year-old known to the staff as an "escape artist" pushed his way off a bus headed to D.C. Superior Court while the bus was stopped to pick up other juveniles at the Oak Hill Annex, a lower-security facility without fences. A counselor chased and wrestled the youth to the ground as other staff looked on but failed to assist him, according to the incident report.

"After several moments had gone by and after struggling to restrain the resident, I realized that none of the staff who witnessed this resident running from court bus and me pursuing him was concerned enough to investigate or render aid in this situation," the counselor wrote.

On June 18, a week earlier, the same inmate and three other youths held in a secure "lock down unit" overpowered the lone counselor guarding the unit, stole his keys and unlocked the doors confining other unit residents. The youths were caught as they tried to scale the fence. The inmate in question had escaped twice before in the previous four months.

On Feb. 9, two Oak Hill inmates escaped and stole a staff van when the two staff members who had escorted them on a medical visit to D.C. General Hospital decided to stop at a McDonald's for lunch. Shortly after one counselor left to get the food, one of the youths jumped out the passenger door. The second counselor gave chase.

"In my effort to prevent {him} from escaping I did not have time to turn the vehicle engine off," the second counselor wrote in a report. He caught the first youth. When they returned to the parking lot, the van was gone.

On June 11, two inmates who had made previous escape attempts fled again after the lone and relatively new counselor in a dormitory gave a building key to one of the youths, according to an incident report.

The two left the dormitory and cut a hole, apparently with wire cutters, in the fence. One of the inmates previously had broken into the home of D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), chairman of the Human Services Committee, which is charged with overseeing Oak Hill.

"The numbers are extremely high and worrisome," said Crawford, who toured the center last winter and recommended several security changes, including constructing a watch tower. Crawford said he planned to schedule hearings on the youth detention center, and added that "security will be emphasized."

Crawford also said he plans to raise questions about a private security firm hired three months ago to patrol the perimeter continuously in two cars. The private security guards have been deployed to report escape sightings to Oak Hill guards, but are not empowered to capture the fleeing inmates. Often, the escapee is gone before an Oak Hill guard can be found to chase him, according to staff members.

Staff also regularly blame provisions of the lawsuit settlement as a major factor in the increased escapes. They say disciplinary measures were severely limited by the settlement and that an inmate who escapes often serves no additional time for the period he is missing.

"The youngster knows nothing is going to happen to him," said Cooper, the retired Oak Hill officer.

Problems with escapes have become so acute that security officials at the National Security Agency across the street met with Oak Hill staff two months ago to complain about escaping inmates stealing NSA employes' cars. Operators of a motel down the street from Oak Hill have made similar complaints while U.S. Park Police officers, regularly deployed to search the grounds, have voiced their frustrations.

Youth services director Williams acknowledged the reports about past problems, and added, "It is something everybody is frustrated about, and certainly nobody is more frustrated than me as the administrator who oversees the program."

Williams said Oak Hill officials have called the city's Department of Corrections for advice, and will have money to buy new security vehicles. But he said the most significant changes in security will arise when planned improvements in the detention center's long criticized education and recreation programs are implemented soon.

The June monitor's report indicated that in March, the Oak Hill school was closed 9 1/2 days out of 22, and often started late in the morning. More teachers are scheduled to be hired.

"Real security in an institution comes from appropriate staffing and adequate programming. We need improvements in both areas," Williams said. "We now have the necessary funding . . . and we're moving towards implementation."