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Mayor Anthony Williams
Announcement of Youth Services Administration Reform
December 3, 2003




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News Release for Immediate Release
December 3, 2003

Mayor Williams Announces Youth Services Administration Reform

(Washington, DC) At his weekly press briefing today, Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced significant management reform efforts at the Youth Services Administration (YSA).

Marceline D. Alexander will serve as YSA's Interim Director. Alexander served as Interim Director of the Office of Property Management (OPM) during the recent reform efforts in that agency. Prior to leading OPM as Interim Director, where she also served as Deputy Director and Chief of Staff, Alexander worked in the Office of the Corporation Counsel as Section Chief of the Child Support Enforcement Division and as a trial attorney defending the District in special litigation, including the successful defense of the District's juvenile curfew law. A certified public manager, she also prosecuted abuse and neglect cases.

Joining Alexander in the transition effort is Mark D. Back, a 12-year veteran in the Office of the Corporation Counsel. Back currently serves as Special Counsel and will continue in that role at YSA. Recently, Back served as Interim Director of the Corporation Counsel's Child Support Enforcement Division. Prior to that, Back was responsible for representing the District in litigation involving government contracts, regulations, and personnel issues. He brings specialized expertise to the transition team and is also a certified public manager.

"I am confident that Ms. Alexander and Mr. Back will be invaluable resources at YSA as we move forward with a nationwide search for a permanent director who will implement sound management infrastructure change at YSA," said Mayor Williams. "In the meantime, some immediate changes will enable us to better address the needs of the youth in the juvenile justice system as a part of our overall strategy of juvenile justice reform. The reform initiatives we are announcing today are just the beginning of a long, hard road ahead. Our juvenile justice reform efforts must assume the highest priority across agencies throughout the District government."

A critical component of reforming youth services is the security and management of the Oak Hill facility. Department of Corrections Director Odie Washington will take a leadership role in the transition. Washington has an impressive history in juvenile corrections, having spent eight years managing large and small juvenile corrections facilities in Illinois. As Director of Corrections for the State of Illinois, he managed the juvenile corrections division, which included seven juvenile facilities, and an average daily population of 1,100 incarcerated juveniles and 1,300 on parole. All seven facilities were accredited by the American Correctional Association. 

Additionally, the Department of Corrections itself has extensive experience managing a juvenile population. Lorton had a youth center with an average daily population of 400 or more, including both males and females. 

Washington has already assumed responsibility for Oak Hill's external security. His mandate moving forward is to address the facility's most pressing needs, assess the operations of the secure programming and facilities, and develop a reform plan that is appropriate for the District's juvenile correctional system. In addition, Department of Corrections staff will assume responsibility for and enhance YSA's absconder unit, to ensure that youth are quickly returned to those charged with their care.

Marti Knisley, Director of the Department of Mental Health, will add additional mental health resources to the Oak Hill facility, and she will work closely with Washington and DHS Director Yvonne Gilchrist through this transition phase. Knisley has assigned Dr. Gracioli Gonzalez, the District's Chief Child Psychiatrist, to strengthen mental health and substance abuse assessments, crisis coverage, suicide prevention and mental health treatment for the most severely emotionally disturbed youth at Oak Hill. The Department will also add a Continuity of Care Director so the city can more effectively plan for the release of youth at Oak Hill as well as other staff to enhance mental health at the facility.

According to Mayor Williams, there are two key reasons why the District is moving forward before permanent leadership is brought on board. The first reason is to ensure the security and safety of youth in the care of YSA. The second reason is that the District is looking to develop and implement management infrastructure reform now so that the permanent leadership will be better able to concentrate on providing and improving program services. Alexander will be conducting a top-to-bottom review of the agency in the coming weeks and will be working with Corporation Counsel attorneys and opposing counsel in the Jerry M litigation to identify priorities for immediate, short-term, and long-term change. These priorities will include comprehensive training for YSA staff; pursuit of an onsite charter school to provide tailored, year-round education and programs; enhanced coordination and delivery of after-care services; and licensure of community-based facilities.

"The need to reform and improve the current operation should not be viewed as an indictment of all of those who currently work in this difficult and demanding area," said Mayor Williams. "I fully recognize that hundreds of District employees and contract employees work day to day under very trying circumstances. But I also recognize that we have inherited a system that has not served the young people who are in it. I am grateful to City Administrator Robert Bobb for putting such a tremendous effort towards this important reform initiative. I want to thank the members of the Juvenile Justice Commission and the many outside groups who have worked so hard on this issue. I am confident that we can and will make the improvements that are so desperately needed."

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