Judge still undecided if DC should be held in contempt over lack of beds for detained youth

A judge remains undecided as to whether D.C. should be held in contempt after the city was accused of failing to provide enough beds at its youth shelter for detained teens. It is part of a lawsuit filed against the city by a teenager who was turned away by the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services’ Youth Services Center.

The teen is one of 11 young people who have gone to court and accused DYRS of turning them away from a shelter-like facility at the center, instead keeping them in a more secure portion of the center.

The accusations of inadequate shelter for teens who are allowed to stay in a less “jail-like” setting come as the city battles a surge of cases in which children are being arrested for committing crimes.

In addition to a lack of beds, young people already living at the Youth Services Center allege poor living conditions.

A second hearing to consider whether or not the city should be held in contempt of court was held Wednesday, after D.C. was accused of failing to make beds available despite court orders in the past to do so.

DYRS director Sam Abed told the court the city does have plans in the works to provide more than two dozen additional beds.

Abed said now that a renovation project has been completed, the center will begin providing 10 additional beds Thursday. That will take the facility from 88 to 98 beds. The director also said, as of Wednesday, 71 beds are in use at the center.

Sixteen more beds are coming as the agency secures contracts with private facilities, according to Abed. While several deals are still being worked out, he said a contract has been signed for six beds at the transitional housing facility Hope House.

Abed also said 14 additional staff members have been hired by the agency.

The new developments come as part of a public emergency declaration made by Mayor Muriel Bowser last month.

When asked by D.C. Superior Court Judge Andrea Hertzfeld when the additional beds from private providers would be available, Abed didn’t have an answer.

While saying the plan presented in the case showed progress, the judge refused to take the possibility of holding DYRS in contempt off the table, and instead scheduled another hearing on the matter in two weeks. Hertzfeld told the city that while there may be open beds in the facility now, more beds are needed for when demand rises quickly.

Eduardo Ferrer, visiting professor and policy director at the Georgetown Juvenile Justice Clinic and Initiative, represents at least one of the teens who was turned away due to a lack of available beds. He said since deals aren’t finalized and providers would still need to actually make those beds available, it’s too soon to tell if the changes will come quick enough.

“The reality of it is, it’s yet to be seen,” Ferrer said.

Both sides will be back in court on Tuesday, Dec. 19.

While normally, members of the news media are not allowed into juvenile court hearings, the judge made an exception in this case that stands to have a city-wide impact.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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