Buildings not empty after all

August 26, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

For the past three years, local police and emergency agencies assumed the buildings at Forest Haven, a former District of Columbia mental institution near Laurel, were empty.

But at least 40 juvenile offenders under the care of the D.C. Department of Human Services are living there, serving sentences or awaiting release.

"The kids have been there for well over a year," Larry Brown, spokesman for the Department of Human Services said yesterday. "Our presence there is not a secret."

That contention is disputed by the agencies that would respond to emergencies or escapes and Anne Arundel officials who represent the area.

"This is the first time I've heard of it," said Sgt. Charles Blevins of the Anne Arundel County police. "We're going to check into it."

Chief Ray Smallwood of the Maryland City Volunteer Fire Department, agreed. "As far as we knew, in 1991, the buildings were abandoned."

He said his department has no access to Forest Haven buildings and does not know which ones are occupied. "If there's somebody in there, we ought to at least be able to try and rescue them."

Forest Haven is off Route 198, near the Oak Hill Youth Detention Center, another D.C.-owned facility, and the Maryland House of Correction, both of which are fenced. Law enforcement and Anne Arundel officials say Forest Haven, which lacks security measures, could be a threat to the neighborhood.

"We don't need that stuff. We really don't," Anne Arundel County Sheriff Robert G. Pepersack said. "We've got enough problems with prisoners of our own, without having D.C.'s problems dumped on us."

Sergeant Blevins said county police would seek a meeting with the D.C. police, the U.S. Park Police and other agencies to ensure a coordinated effort should escapes occur, a procedure used at the other facilities.

But D.C. officials say the fears are unfounded.

"The kids at Fair Haven pose no threat to the community," Mr. Brown said.

The girls in Spruce Cottage have been charged with nonviolent offenses, such as truancy or running away from home. All youths in a pre-release program in Camelia Cottage have been deemed ready, by a court, to return to the community, he said.

As of Wednesday, 20 young offenders were living in Camelia Cottage and 20 girls were in Spruce Cottage, said Dr. Reginald Wells, deputy commissioner with the D.C. Commission on Social Services.

The D.C. government is seeking court permission to open an 18-bed assessment facility in Camelia Cottage, he noted.

"Apparently, we were doing a good job with the youth over there," Mr. Brown said, if the surrounding community had been unaware of their presence for more than a year.

Mr. Brown said the D.C. government never abandoned the Forest Haven property. He said D.C. officials thought the Anne Arundel County Fire Department and other local officials knew that children were housed there, and added, "We certainly will be in contact with them."

County Councilman David G. Boschert, a Crownsville Democrat whose district surrounds the D.C. facilities, said he also would ask County Attorney Judson Garrett to contact his D.C. counterpart to determine the plans for Forest Haven.

Mr. Smallwood also raised questions about conditions at Forest Haven. Because many fire hydrants there are broken and the D.C. government has not fixed them, he said, responding to a fire could mean "I'm putting my people's lives in danger."

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a 5th District Democrat, is "very concerned about what is going on" at Forest Haven and Oak Hill, said spokesman Jesse Jacobs.

He said Mr. Hoyer had asked the D.C. officials for information on who is staying at Forest Haven, including the types of offenses they had committed, their expected lengths of stay and when they would be moved to secure facilities.

In April, D.C. Superior Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ordered the district to reduce the population at Oak Hill to 150 or fewer by Aug. 19 or face fines of $500 per day per child exceeding that number. He also ordered the district to reduce the number of children held at the D.C. Receiving Home in Northeast Washington.

Oak Hill housed 146 juveniles as of Wednesday, and had reached its target, according to Mr. Brown.

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