Cedar Knoll Detention Center close to termination

September 24, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

The troubled Cedar Knoll youth detention center in Laurel is a breath away from being ordered to close, just as the District of Columbia was making a last-gasp effort to improve the minimum-security facility.

U.S. House and Senate negotiators agreed yesterday on a spending package for the District of Columbia that eliminates money for Cedar Knoll.

The House is expected to vote on the bill today, and the Senate is to take up the matter tomorrow. Sara Broadwater, a spokeswoman for Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, said the bill is assured of passing.

"It's a done deal," she said yesterday, explaining that both Democrats and Republicans agree on the district's spending package for the next fiscal year.

Mr. Hoyer's amendment eliminates funding for the detention center, located at the corner of Route 32 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, by the end of next June.

The detention center has been a source of community complaints for years.

Since January 1990, 43 youths have made escape attempts, 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 seven months ago with the robbery and killing of a Capitol Heights store clerk.

Until April, the 22-acre facility that houses 160 detainees had no fence. Now, a 10-foot-high "razor barrier" fence that cost $264,000 encircles the complex. There have been no escapes since.

District officials have also spruced up the facility, which they admit had been neglected for years. But critics say the time limit has expired.

A D.C. Superior Court judge ordered Cedar Knoll to shut down in 1987, agreeing with the office of the public defender that the facility failed to rehabilitate youthful offenders.

The judge also ordered that alternative programs for the youths, such as halfway houses, be set up, something D.C. officials acknowledge has only begun recently.

Administrators of Cedar Knoll gave a reporter a tour of the complex earlier this month to show off improvements and stress the need for keeping the the complex open.

But critics like U.S. Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th, said Cedar Knoll had five years to prove itself and failed. When President Bush signs the appropriations bill, D.C. government officials will be forced to find someplace else to house youths convicted of non-violent offenses.

Larry Brown, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Human Services, which oversees Cedar Knoll, said he could not comment on what provisions are being made to place detainees in alternative programs.

"We are continuing to talk to Congressman Hoyer," Mr. Brown said.

"We respect his position on this matter. I would point out that since Mayor [Sharon Pratt] Kelly took a personal interest in the security issue, there has not been one escape from that institution."

Mr. Brown did say that they should be able to phase out the detention center in about a year if necessary.

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