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Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells says he’s planning to hold a hearing on juvenile absconders after it was revealed that one of the suspects arrested in the murder of middle school prinicipal Brian Betts had skipped out of a city group home just weeks before the crime.
“These places aren’t secure and they’re not meant to be,” says Charles Allen, Wells’ chief of staff. “There’s a difference between a youth rehabilitative model and a jail model.”
While escaping from a secure juvenile facility is relatively difficult, absconding from a “community placement” isn’t. Youngsters merely have to slip away from the group home or family residence they’ve been remanded to.
When a kid plays hooky from his “rehabilitative model,” the persons charged with caring for the youth are asked to alert a caseworker. A form is filled out and sent to a family court judge, who issues a custody order. The custody order (which functions somewhat like a warrant) is given over to police, who picks the kid up.
But it doesn’t always work that way. Wells says despite the fact that absconders are usually pretty easy to find—a lot of them go back to their old neighborhoods and hang outs—Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) has informed him that at any point in time, there are about 70 youth absconders loose on District area streets. “I want that number to be 0,” he says.
Wells believes the way to achieve that is simple.
Step one: nix custody orders. “We should be able to bypass custody orders if they’re committed youth,” says Wells. “You generally know where they are. Let’s just go get them.” He says custody orders take too much time.
Step two: Have police make finding absconded youth a priority. Wells says an absconded youth should be tracked down within 72 hours.