Forest Haven to tell cities of escapes


In early August, four juvenile offenders fled in a friend's car from a halfway house operated by the District of Columbia at Forest Haven off Route 198 near Maryland City. But no one

informed local officials.

That shouldn't happen again under an agreement reached yesterday between District of Columbia authorities and civic leaders from Jessup, Laurel and Maryland City.

District officials said they would add Forest Haven to an agreement drafted last March to cover the Oak Hill Youth Detention center, a maximum-security youth prison next door. The agreement says neighboring communities are to be informed of escapes.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a 5th District Democrat who called the meeting, said he was pleased.

"I am confident that if they [young offenders] are handled inappropriately, we're going to know about it," he said.

But Mr. Hoyer said he is not entirely satisfied with security in the prerelease program at Forest Haven. Youths there are kept in locked rooms, he said, but there is no security fence.

District officials said all the youths in the prerelease program had been returned by courts to return to the community.

Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Civic Association and chief of the Maryland City Volunteer Fire Department, was cautiously optimistic.

"I'm always skeptical until I see the end results," he said. "It seems like they'll be more aware that we're aware of the situation."

Local civic leaders attended the meeting and a subsequent tour of Oak Hill and Forest Haven, both of which were closed to the media.

Until recently, local officials had thought that Forest Haven, which closed in 1991, was vacant. But for more than a year the district has used it to house a prerelease program for 20 juvenile offenders, some of whom have been convicted of violent crimes.

About 20 girls charged with nonviolent offenses also are housed at Forest Haven in a separate program. In addition, the district is seeking permission to open an 18-bed assessment facility for young offenders there.

Mr. Hoyer asked for the meeting yesterday to try to allay community fears about security at the complex.

He assured residents that 38 youths transferred from the D.C. Receiving Home, which is under court order to close, would be going to Oak Hill, not Forest Haven.

To alleviate crowding, he said, modular housing has been set up inside Oak Hill's security fence.

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