U.S. House measure could lead to Cedar Knoll's close

July 10, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment Wednesday night that would shut down the troubled D.C.-owned Cedar Knoll youth detention center near Laurel by next June.

The measure, included in the district's $3.9 billion spending plan, goes to the Senate, which is expected to take up the package in the next couple months.

Cedar Knoll, a minimum-security detention center near Route 32 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway that has no fences, has been plagued by escapes.

Since January 1990, 43 youths have escaped, 49 have fled while on outside job or school assignments and 85 more have failed to return from unsupervised home visits or special leave.

A 16-year-old who went AWOL from a school assignment in Washington in September was charged five months ago with the robbery and killing of a Capitol Heights store clerk.

A D.C. Superior Court judge ordered the facility to shut down in 1987. "It has remained open in contempt of that order since," said U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, who sponsored the amendment. "And worse, [it] has averaged three to five escapes a month of sometimes dangerous offenders."

U.S. Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, a co-sponsor of the amendment, told fellow congressmen Wednesday night that Cedar Knoll has been the subject of multiple investigations by the General Accounting Office, the FBI and the courts.

"The Cedar Knoll Detention Facility detains youths which offer real risks to our society," Mr. McMillen said. "The failure to detain these youths has been a consistent threat to the safety of my constituents. Today's bill finally guarantees that public safety will be ensured."

In April, after 10 youths escaped from the maximum-security Oak Hill facility located across the street, Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly ordered city police officers to patrol the two detention centers. "I have simply run out of patience on this issue," she said.

Yesterday, Larry Brown, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Human Services, said that he hopes negotiations can keep the facility open.

"We understand Mr. Hoyer's position on this," he said. "We also hope that he and Congress will recognize that we have tried to make substantial improvements to the facility. Our position is to remain at the facility for now."

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