(WASHINGTON) – The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents employees of the District of Columbia’s Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services, (DYRS), today said that the recent rash of youth violence can be directly attributed to failures of the city’s juvenile justice system.
This week, three teenagers have been charged with the alleged murder of well-known D.C. principal, Brian Betts. Those charged, Sharif Tau Lancaster, Alante Saunders, and Deontra Gray were all under the supervision of DYRS.
“This incident is as horrific and tragic as possible,” said Johnnie Walker, president of AFGE Local 383, which represents employees in DYRS. “But, the real tragedy is this all could have been prevented. DYRS, Fenty, and Nickles have known that this agency simply doesn’t have the resources to manage these violent offenders. They ignored those warnings and now a man is dead because of it.”
As the union that represents employees in DYRS, AFGE has been vocal about the need to increase staffing levels and security measures within the agency. “Frustrated DYRS employees will tell you that the vast majority of experienced employees are still carrying caseloads of 35-40 offenders; making it near impossible to effectively manage an already troubled population,” said Walker. “For years, we have tried to get the attention of Adrian Fenty. We have told him and his administration that the current system was not safe for the staff, those in custody, or the general public.”
AFGE has been lobbying Fenty to improve resources for the agency since he was chair of the City Council’s Committee on Human Services, which oversees DYRS. In 2007, AFGE urged then-councilmember Fenty to respond to the agency’s troubles. “When he was Human Services Committee chair, we told Fenty that things were dire. During his tenure as chair more than 40 kids had been killed while under DYRS supervision and more than 144 had escaped custody. His response then as it is now, has been resounding silence,” said Walker.
Instead of heeding these warnings from front line DYRS staff, Fenty has made repeated attempts to reduce staffing levels within the agency, either through reductions-in-force or outright privatization. While eliminating staff under the guise of cost cutting, the mayor has continued to push public funds through private enterprises. The Washington Examiner reported last year that the District was spending $175,000 per offender for housing in private facilities across the country.
In addition to challenging the administration’s refusal to properly resource the agency, AFGE has been critical of the Fenty administration’s casual attitude toward violent youth offenders. “Our prior agency director, Vincent Schiraldi, believed that youth offenders, no matter how violent, shouldn’t be treated as criminals. This “boys will be boys,” attitude, shared by Adrian Fenty, handcuffed staff’s ability to provide adequate security. “The result of the laissez faire mentality is that youth have more opportunities to escape, more opportunities to assault staff, and more opportunities to wreak havoc on the community,” said Walker.