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Center to close Monday Cedar Knoll action comes seven years after court order


Seven years ago, a federal judge ordered the District of Columbia to close its Cedar Knoll Youth Detention Center in Laurel. On Monday, that order finally will be carried out.

Just two months ago, more than 150 juvenile offenders were still housed in the facility, which has been criticized as a dumping ground for wayward teen-agers and for repeated escapes that frightened surrounding neighborhoods.

Judges were still sentencing youths to the medium-security facility near Route 32 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway as recently as March, leading district officials to wonder if they could meet a deadline mandated by Congress.

Yesterday, they announced that they could.

"It is gradually being phased out," said Larry Brown, a spokesman for the district's Department of Human Services. "I don't know the exact number of kids there now, but on May 31, we won't have any."

That news delighted U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat from the 5th District, who sponsored legislation last year to end funding for Cedar Knoll by June 1. The congressman is planning to hold a news conference Tuesday at the prison.

"We are pleased that after seven long years, the District of Columbia will fulfill its mission of closing as Congress directed it to," said Jesse Jacobs, a spokesman for Mr. Hoyer.

In 1986, Judge Ricardo Urbina of the District of Columbia Superior Court ordered Cedar Knoll closed and instructed the city to develop an alternate plan that would avoid placing youths in similar institutions.

But that order went unheeded, and District of Columbia officials acknowledged in an interview last year that they were slow to develop an alternative plan, hoping to improve Cedar Knoll to satisfy the judge.

Between 1990 and 1992, 177 youths either escaped from the unfenced complex or failed to return from weekend passes.

Mr. Hoyer filed his legislation after a number of escapes last year.

District Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly replaced Cedar Knoll's superintendent in February 1992 and ordered city police officers to patrol the grounds.

The city also erected a $264,000 fence around the facility.

But it wasn't enough to keep the center open.

Mr. Brown said the city government sponsored a job fair yesterday to help employees who may be out of work next week.

A number of guards will be laid off, but officials hope to hire them for other jobs.

What will become of the land remains a question.

The District of Columbia owns the site, as well as adjoining acres that house the Oak Hill Detention Center, a maximum-security facility for teens, and another defunct detention center, Forest Haven.

County Council Chairman David G. Boschert, a Crownsville Democrat, recently said the land might make a good site for a west campus for Anne Arundel Community College, or perhaps a county park.

Mr. Brown said Mayor Kelly plans to issue a statement tomorrow regarding Cedar Knoll, but he did not know if it would deal with plans for the site.

Mr. Jacobs said he was unaware of any land use plans.

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