Washington, D.C.'s top juvenile-justice official, Vincent Schiraldi, wants to revolutionize how the city deals with youths who've been convicted of crimes, says the Washington City Paper. He believes that his Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), should offer some of the city's toughest kids a shot at a brighter future, not just junior-varsity seasoning to prepare them for time in adult prisons. For a director with no previous experience running a government agency, Schiraldi has an indication that his reform effort is gaining traction: He has pissed off the union representing guards at agency facilities.
The agency runs a 195-bed facility called Oak Hill, a 80-bed Youth Services Center, and a bevy of community-based programs. The department's detention centers have a history of violence, murder, drug use, and escapes. Many of the units at Oak Hill are dimly lit, dingy, and run-down. Mark Steward, who ran the Missouri Division of Youth Services for 18 years, recently surveyed the agency. “I've seen some more-abusive and -violent systems that really treated kids in a bad way, but D.C. had this feeling of neglect–lethargic hopelessness,” Steward says. “[The agency] had been neglected for years and years by previous directors.” While the agency has waited to adopt the Missouri model and laid plans to close Oak Hill in 2009, Schiraldi has initiated alternatives to detention for nonviolent youth offenders and made other changes. “I'm totally impatient,” he says. “We should have done more in a year. I would give myself a C-.”