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In the past few months, the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services has faced overcrowding at New Beginnings, an increase in commitments, and continued scrutiny from plaintiffs attorneys in the class-action Jerry M case.
Interim Director Robert Hildum may be feeling the pressure. On December 2, Hildum sent out an e-mail to his senior staff in which he wondered out loud if the agency should stop actively seeking juveniles who’ve absconded from the system.
In the e-mail, Hildum asks: “Is there any plausible way to stop picking up absconders or slow down?”
It is a stunning question from a former prosecutor with the Office of the Attorney General who had previously criticized DYRS’ high rate of juvenile absconders.
In a recent WaPo story, Hildum downplayed the overcrowding at New Beginnings. But he admitted that the increased commitments had stressed his staff. He just didn’t mention that he was one of the ones so stressed out. Hildum’s e-mail which he categorized as highly important, is filled with questions concerning juvenile commitments. He wrote:
On Monday I have to meet with the Jerry M parties to discuss the awaiting population problem and potential solutions.
I expect to get a lot of questions on the [Awaiting Placement] population—therefore I need to know as much as possible about the characteristics of the AP population-
LOS [Length of Stays], planned placement, how they got to NB (new commitment, abscondance, revocation, etc.). Current status-AP or awaiting revocation. How many are at NB [New Beginnings] because we simply cannot place them?
Is the increased emphasis on absconders driving up the AP population? Can we identify what is driving the population? Linda’s shop has started doing home assessments is that driving the population?
Where do new commitments fall?
Is there any plausible way to stop picking up absconders or slow down?
Are we revoking youth on “technical” violations?
I really need this info as soon as possible-COB tomorrow please.
A few days after the e-mail was sent a DYRS youth who had absconded was shot and killed.
In a statement e-mailed to Washington City Paper, Hildum explains why he had asked if DYRS could possibly stop picking up absconders:
“DYRS secure space is extremely limited and we must address the population issues on a daily basis. I am always willing to consider any plausible ideas and that question was posed by a member of my staff and I in turn relayed it to my working group on population.
The answer to the question was no, we can’t so we moved on to other ideas. I am deeply concerned about youth in the community who have absconded and I have made finding them a priority.”
Hildum added: “When I started on July 26th 73 DYRS youth were in abscondance. As of yesterday there were 48. I have established a full time abscondance unit that reviews the list every day and prioritizes according to risk. They have done a magnificent job-perhaps too good because of the pressure to find a place to put the kids while DYRS decides on placement.”
A source familiar with DYRS operations says Hildum did not establish a full-time abscondance unit. A unit had been up and running for years. “That e-mail is shameful and shows that Hildum was much better at criticizing than managing,” the sources says. “DYRS needs new leadership committed to reform and best practices.”
File photo by Darrow Montgomery