For years, because it lacked adequate housing for juvenile offenders, the District resorted to placing them in facilities outside the city; most times, in other states as far as 300 miles away. This was particularly true for females. Last year for instance, of the more than 300 youths from the District that were detained in facilities in other states, some 25 were females.

Now, Howard University has announced a partnership with the District that, at the onset, will enable at least six delinquent females, ages 15 to 20, to serve out their court-ordered sentences at the new Lillian D. Worthington Residential facility located in Southeast Washington.

The renovated 5,500-square-foot center, slated for opening in July, is a long-term facility and will be operated in conjunction with the privately owned, District-based Metropolitan Educational Solutions.

“This is a small community-based endeavor,” said Linda Harlee-Harper, program manager with the city’s Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services.

She said wherever the participating girls go beyond the walls of the two-story, placid-looking brick structure located on the 5200 block of Astor Place, they will be accompanied by staff.

“So, it’s not a locked facility but a staff-secure facility,” Harlee-Harper said, adding that for too long, the District has neglected its young troubled females.

She said in-house education is one of the program’s main objectives and that’s where Howard enters, providing university-based exposure.

“In all programs across the board – from mental health services to gender-specific programs in schools – I think the city could do a better job,” Harlee Harper said. “This is a good first step in addressing the needs of our young ladies.”

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry concurred. Barry, who has often asserted the need for more services geared to youth, said the detention center offers the kind of environment where detainees can more closely interact with staff during their rehabilitation and also achieve educational goals.

“The problem is that a lot of people don’t want detention centers in their backyards,” Barry said. He added, however, that such was the case with the Worthington Center and that officials had to stand firm on their decision to locate it where it is.

“There have been programs put in people’s communities that they opposed, but once they were up and running, nobody wanted them to leave,” Barry said, adding that he felt the community would likewise embrace Worthington.

Peaceaholics cofounder Ron Moten also said he applauded the decision to keep the girls in the District.

“They shouldn’t have wasted taxpayer money in the first place, housing females around the country where they were disconnected from their families,” Moten said.

“But having the program right here in the District where the proper people can oversee it, amongst the village we once had, is the answer.”

According to Tracy Velazquez, executive director of the District-based think tank Justice Policy Institute, the new facility is a good step because youthful offenders tend to do better with rehabilitation when they’re closer to their families.

“It’s so hard for families to go visit if a girl is in Pennsylvania or West Virginia,” Velazquez said. “So this is really going to be a really positive step.”

Especially since Worthington is in line with best practices, she added. “It’s small so that it can cater to a dozen girls at the most and because of its size, it would feel just like a home.”

Meanwhile, detention officials in nearby Laurel, Md., and Mayor Adrian Fenty were embarrassed by a riot-like situation that occurred two weeks ago at the New

Beginnings juvenile detention.

In that incident, a detainee fled the brand new $46 million state-of-the-art facility for juvenile boys center by scaling a fence. He was later captured in Northeast Washington.

Since the escape in which some 70 detainees engaged the staff in a melee after refusing to enter their electronically controlled sleeping quarters, inmate movement at the facility has been more heavily restricted.

The escape occurred just one day after its opening in May and shed light on some foibles in the system—largely because the facility had been promoted as the one place in the area most suited to rehabilitate its detainees.

In a statement released by the American Federation of Government Employees, spokesman Dwight Bowman said the incident equated to another black mark on the city’s DYRS.

“Whether inside the New Beginnings facility or supervising committed youth who reside in the community, the Fenty administration has proven itself to be incapable of managing the youthful offender population,” Bowman said. “The agency is under-resourced, jeopardizing the safety of the employees, the committed youth and the general public.”

 

DorothyRowley

AFROStaffWriter