Loose Lips

DYRS Chief Wonders if D.C. Should Let Kids Flee

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

  • Sally

    Cherkis hack alert!

  • Gentry Fication

    Um its obvious we need to build a bigger, more secure prison for juveniles. There, problem solved. I don't think 20 murders by and of DYRS 'wards' is cool at all. Most of these 'juveniles' are 18 or older and can simply walk out of any of these community based rehabilition facilities. I consider this criminal coddling.

  • Support Rob

    Rob Hildum certainly did not suggest letting absconders roam free. In its current configuration the juvenile justice system lacks capacity to meet its detention needs. May I recommend housing juvenile offenders at the Correctional Treatment Facility adjacent to the D.C. Jail? Immediate expansion of New Beginnings should also occur. Vinnie Schiraldi was wrong, and put the health and safety of all District residents at risk with his rehab focused, community-based policies. It is obvious that his supporters intend to work very hard to undermine the person charged with cleaning up his mess. Perhaps its time for Rob Hildum to recruit a senior management team that can be trusted, and participates in developing needed solutions. So it goes in the District of Columbia....

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com Jason Cherkis

    Support Rob: Check out the recent revocation data.

  • Typical DC BS

    How much more pathetic can the DC justice system get with these young idiots? These juveniles don't care about anything but themselves and have major anger management issues.

    I've worked in the federal prison system previously and almost without exception, the inmates had either mental issues or anger management issues that should be reason enough to lock them in their cells for the rest of their born days (at least the violent ones). Typically, there was a progression that was easily observed once you looked at their life history, from petty crimes like shoplifting or constant fighting in school, moving up to burglary or drug use / dealing, and finally to major crimes like rape, murder, aggravated assault, etc.

    A major part of the criminal justice system needs to be a focus on identifying the habitual criminals and locking them away FOREVER. The drop in crime rates would be astounding. Ancient societies had it right when a member of the tribe was incorrigible or committed a major crime: the offender was either exiled or killed.

  • againandagain

    I don't think the blame can fairly be placed on Hildum for this.

    Under prior leadership of DYRS, and under Committee Chair Mendlessohn (who lives in a safe enough neighborhood that he doesn't have to care about the rest of us), and under federal court orders (from Judges who also don't live in the tough parts of town, you can bet) decided to build a laughably small juvenile detention center. Apparently, their plan was that if you just close your eyes and believe enough, then youth won't commit serious crimes.

    Guess what? They were wrong. Prior DYRS administrators never really had to deal with the problem, because they were content to leave dangerous, abscondant youth on the street. No biggie -- let the kids find a good way to occupy themselves. For instance, by murdering people.

    Now Hildum is stuck cleaning up the mess -- and the detention facility is too small. That's not his fault. That's the fault of the District's soft-on-crime leadership from Mendlessohn etc.

  • DCexpat

    againandagain: exactly, well said. My only correction is that as far as I know most of our judges live outside of DC.

    My advice, ship them all over the country in the care of the Corrections Corp. of America. Buying stock in that company was the only way I could feel good about DC crime.


    Please add this idiot at DYRS to your list to be fired, effective January 2, 2011. We can do better and based on the efforts by Senator Cardin in MD, the New Beginning facility days are numbered in Laurel,MD. DC should look at putting a facility along the Anacostia River or the SE Freeway, vs the location at Walter Reed which Sen. Cardin is proposing. Time to take care of your own criminals in DC and cut costs.

  • DCDem

    @cut your losses: NB is located on Federal Property not property of the State of America. It isn't the first time Cardin has tried to have the facility relocated, but it will still be "federal" land when/if they move.

    That said, I think a facility should be built in either Ward 1,2,3 or 6. Anywhere but SE, considering this is where the crimes are committed. That, or put it at Walter Reed, or, build another adult prison at Walter Reed site and use the current D.C. Jail near old D.C. General Hospital to lock up juvenile offenders.

  • DCDem

    Correction: ...Not property of the State of Maryland

  • Engine 10

    Corrections Corporation of America, (ticker symbol CXW), has a consistent and succesful history on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). They (CXW) house DC inmates in the building that they own, the "Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF)", right next to the DC Jail. CXW uses the same winning formula as the McDonalds (MCD) Corporation; they make money from people going in and out of their doors.

    At the site of the new DYRS facility located on Mt. Olivet Road NE, (if you took away half of the parking spaces), there is more than enough space to construct a building that can house the overflow of youth inmates.

  • Southeast Resident

    If you have overcrowding, send the extras to Afghanistan to help with the war effort. The extras would do a great job on the front line there. Those Taliban would be no match for a young DC thug.