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'New Beginnings' for Youthful Offenders

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and several city officials today officially opened the New Beginnings Youth Detention Center, a $44 million facility that replaced Oak Hill, the city's crumbling, overcrowded facility that had been plagued with problems for more than four decades.

"It is a little bit of an emotional day for all of us," said Vincent N. Schiraldi, director of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, as he took the mayor and the media on a tour of the 60-bed facility that stands in stark contrast to the old detention center 15 miles north of the District that was surrounded by razor wire. "I have said a lot of bad things over the years about Oak Hill," Schiraldi said. "I said to my staff that I wouldn't kennel my dog in Oak Hill."

"For at least 40 years people have talked about closing Oak Hill and having a state of the art youth development center," Fenty said during a program before he walked through the facility, which looks more like a college campus complete with a gym, football fields, theater for dramatic productions, library and computer-equipped classrooms.

While Fenty, construction company officials and more than a hundred people congratulated each other, Dexter Dunbar, superintendent of the center, said even though his employees are excited about coming to work in a nicer and safer environment, their primary mission remains the same. "The biggest thing is that we have to make sure that we reform youth to return to the community with a vision and intentions in life," he said.

One New Beginnings resident with that goal is Leonte Butler, 18, who read a poem that he had composed for the mayor and other officials at the program that summarized many young people feelings about being locked up. Butler later showed the mayor his room where there has a chalkboard wall where he composes his thoughts.

"New Beginnings to me is like a fresh start," Butler read. "To make things right everyone has to play their part. I have played my part so far and I am ready to go home. I am ready to see people in person instead of talking over the phone. This campus we now have is pretty nice, you can even push a button to go to the bathroom at night. We have clean units and a plasma TV, but still lock up is not what I want to be."

-- Hamil R. Harris

By Vanessa Williams  |  May 29, 2009; 4:40 PM ET
Categories:  Crime and Public Safety , Hamil R. Harris , Mayor Fenty  
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