Opinion writer

Recently, a D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services corrections officer (now called a “Youth Development Representative”) was hit in the arm by a rock thrown by a juvenile inmate (sorry, “resident”) in the city’s New Beginnings facility in Laurel. One authority said he heard the inmate say he was looking for a brick but had to make do with a rock.

The resolution?

“In regards to the incident between [inmate] and [officer], [staff member] will conduct a mediation between [officer] and [inmate].” Signed: Steve T. Baynes, superintendent of the New Beginnings Youth Development Center, on Saturday, April 30. It was Baynes’s second day on the job.


It wasn’t a playground scuffle between fifth-graders. A juvenile assaulted a guard. Resolve this with an exchange of views between the alleged youthful assaulter and the assaulted adult? The officer, of course, said no and filed charges.

Welcome to DYRS, where striking a guard might get you confined to your dorm room, where the locks don’t work, for a couple of days at most. You might also be asked to write a note of apology.

It’s open season on guards. From January to May, according to a DYRS Report of Critical Incidents and Assaults that I obtained, there have been 46 assaults committed by youths against staff members at the New Beginnings facility. In 2010, there were 147 assaults on staff by youths.

Ah yes, New Beginnings, that much-heralded, $46 million, “state of the art,” 60-bed, so-called secure facility where, as D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) told the Washington Times, “the youths are the boss” and “every kid knows this and acts accordingly.”

Graham has brought much-needed assertive oversight of DYRS as chairman of the council’s Committee on Human Services, after years of mellow stewardship by his predecessor, Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). Graham has been quoted as calling New Beginnings “a rest home for young thugs.” It’s also expensive, with operating costs of just under $900 per day per juvenile, Graham told me. Overall, in fiscal 2012, DYRS commands a budget of approximately $107 million to serve 1,150 youths in its various facilities. That equates to $93,000 per youth per year. Toward what end?

“The moment we opened New Beginnings, it was too small,” interim DYRS director Robert Hildum told the Washington Times last November. A monument to incompetent planning.

“Since New Beginnings opened about 18 months ago,” Graham told his constituents in an April e-mail, “there has been a reported $2.5 million in youth-related property damage.” What’s more, the limited bed space forces the placement of hundreds of young offenders back in the community, where many of them don’t stay under supervision.

A government source provided me with DYRS lists of “absconders” (escapees) from traditional and therapeutic group homes, residential treatment centers and private homes. Between May 2 and May 7, 57 youths were on escape status. That number increased to 60 between May 30 and last week.

You may think that youths in community settings aren’t serious offenders like those in New Beginnings. Wrong.

Consider the conviction records of some escapees from community placements, many of whom are still at large: armed robbery, bank robbery, assault on a police officer, second-degree murder while armed with a gun, cocaine distribution, possession of unregistered firearms, assault with a dangerous weapon, sexual abuse, bank robbery, carjacking. Little sweethearts, all.

I have written more than 20 columns about the dysfunctional DYRS. Today, the misguided leadership is gone. Unfortunately, its philosophy that “it’s all the fault of judges, police and guards” lives on.

So, too, the waste of lives. Graham said that as of May 8, four of the 41 homicide victims in the District this year were youths with associations to DYRS. Two other DYRS youths were killed in Maryland. Another DYRS youth has been arrested and charged with murder.

Making matters worse, Mayor Vincent Gray’s nominee to lead the department, Neil Stanley, who was then-director Vincent Schiraldi’s pick to serve as general counsel two years ago, is off to a bad start. Administrators, including two deputy superintendents, have lodged complaints against him alleging a hostile work environment.

In response to a query, Stanley’s spokesperson told me: “Making comprehensive changes to an organization that serves such a critical role in the lives of youth and families is difficult. . . .As a general matter all staffing or management decisions are made in compliance with governing regulations and in the best interests of the agency.”

At a D.C. Council meeting, Stanley said that Baynes was a 10-year social acquaintance of his with no experience in juvenile justice. He said he hired the retired Coast Guard captain because of his management experience and leadership qualities. That move sticks in the craw of some staff members and some D.C. Council members.

After a complaint was lodged against Baynes’s selection, on Feb. 4 the city’s human resources department ordered Stanley to rescind the superintendent’s vacancy announcement and empanel a group of police, corrections and criminal justice experts to rate and rank job candidates. Stanley said at a council hearing this week that he was unaware of the directive. He revised the vacancy announcement, he said, to eliminate the requirement for juvenile justice qualifications, and hired Baynes anyway.

At DYRS, treatment and placement decisions as well as public safety are of paramount importance.

The fear is that with Neil Stanley, DYRS is getting Vinny Schiraldi-Lite.

Pity the city.