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Wells to Probe New Beginnings, same story: Escape

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) wants to chat with officials in the Department of Youth and Rehabilitative Services.

As promised, Wells today scheduled a June 10 oversight roundtable to determine how a junvenile inmate scaled a fence and fled the $46 million New Beginnings Youth Center in Laurel a day after it opened.

Wells, who runs the committee that oversees the center, was particularly upset because the Fenty administration hadn't notified him of the escape more than 12 hours after it happened.

Flashback to Sunday: "They are supposed to notify me when something significant occurs," Wells said. He said being out of the loop had changed his relationship with youth services and he would go after them. "I think that's an error of judgement from the administration. I'll have to be far more aggressive in getting information from the mayor, and far more aggressive in my oversight hearings with them."

The teenager climbed a fence pole to escape Saturday night. He was captured in Northeast on Monday after youth services officials were tipped about his whereabouts.

Fenty took the blame. "No question. Any mistakes that occurred there shouldn't have happened," the mayor said. "That's squarely on my management team and myself."

At its grand opening, the mayor had called New Beginnings and its sprawling campus setting one of the best facilities in the nation. Wells' roundtable will give Human Services committee members a chance to ask about operations, the escape and actions being taken to prevent them.

Union officials for corrections officers said they saw the escape coming. Union chair Tasha Williams sent an e-mail saying as much to members of the committee. "We will face a major breach," Williams said, partly because the fence surrounding the facility lacked razor wire and other protections.

Williams and other union representatiives weren't impressed with promises by youth services director Vincent N. Schiraldi to safeguard the fence. Days before the opening, he spoke of erecting thorn bushes, such as roses, or some other deterrent at the base of the fence.

The Oak Hill Youth Center experienced numerous escapes before razor wire topped its fence in the mid-1990s. Since then there have been no escapes.

Wells toured New Beginnings on Monday. "They showed me where the youth had crawled up the pole of the fence..., they showed me how they were putting barbed wire at that spot," Wells said. "They thought a youth could not climb that."

"I expect that there will be other glitches with a new facility," Wells said. "The reason I'm holding the hearing is so they can tell the public whether this is a secure facility. Can kids just walk out of there."

By Darryl Fears  |  June 3, 2009; 5:35 PM ET
Categories:  Crime and Public Safety , D.C. Council  
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