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Vincent Schiraldi, the controversial head of the District’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, will head the New York City probation department. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Schiraldi’s appointment at a city hall press conference this morning.
The move brings to an end Schiraldi’s long and contentious tenure here in the District. An outspoken advocate of rehabilitating troubled youth rather than warehousing them in prisonlike homes, Schiraldi oversaw the closing of the notorious Oak Hill reformatory and the opening of its replacement, the New Beginnings Youth Center. The new facility—-brighter, cheerier, and much more lightly defended than its predecessor—-came under criticism after a youth escaped the day after its opening.
Schiraldi has also come under regular fire from public safety advocates, including prosecutors and judges, for placing violent youths back into community settings, sometimes with little supervision. His tenure had provided regular column fodder for Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King. But he maintained his defenders, including much of the political establishment, making him one of the very few holdovers from Mayor Anthony A. Williams‘ administration to gain the confidence of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.
Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, who has overseen DYRS for three years as chair of the council’s human services committee, says Schiraldi “made substantial progress” in reforming a system that’s been subject to federal litigation for more than a decade. “I think that running a juvenile justice system with how we view juveniles, with our fears and concerns about teenagers, it’s an extremely difficult job—particularly in D.C. with its history,” he says.
Wells says Schiraldi will be remembered “as a reformer.”
“Aggressive reformers don’t last as long as he did,” Wells says. “For being as controversial as he was, he certainly had longevity to make it through two mayors….He certainly made a national name for himself, and reformers don’t stay that long.”
Schiraldi told the New York Observer‘s Azi Paybarah that “he wanted to focus on juveniles in the criminal justice system.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery