D.C. YouthLink investigation: City leaders demand change after investigation

Maurice Hall was one of the many who didn't receive promised services from DC YouthLink. (Family photo)

District of Columbia leaders are expressing outrage and shock over the results of an ABC7 News I-Team investigation that uncovered multiple levels of mismanagement of a city program aimed at rehabilitating some of the city's most troubled youth.

An extensive investigation found that DC YouthLink, which was established in 2010 to provide mentoring, tutoring and other services for kids who would otherwise be sent to jail. However, dozens of its enrollees have been murdered or arrested for murder while only 13 graduated from high school.

MORE: Read Ben Eisler's six-part I-Team investigation

Other records uncovered that many teens were receiving no services at all, and while $14 million has been funneled into the program and its contracted companies, the services that youths did get often lacked quality.

"I've been outraged by it," Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry said. "We have to do something to stop abusing our young people like that (and) giving money to groups that don't perform.

"Contracts ought to be cut instantly when that happens so people get the message."

Barry says that the D.C. Council will perform much more oversight going forward and that he will personally add accountability measures to the budget. He says if the program fails, those in charge won't get paid.

He also plans to do everything in his power to recoup misused funds.

"(We'll) take every penny that we can back," Barry said.

In the meantime, DC YouthLink has also made significant changes of its own. They came in advance of our story, but only after ABC7 started asking questions. By the end of August, the program will have assembled an entirely new pool of service providers. The money will also no longer go out without a competitive bidding process.

Throughout the investigation, Councilmember Jim Graham has held oversight hearing and taken serious questions to the agency's leadership; the most recent changes at DC YouthLink have been, in part, due to his efforts.

"I'm not comfortable or pleased with the way this has been handled previosuly," Graham said in an email while traveling overseas. "I am encouraged by the changes that we have prompted."

Graham says he will continue to hold hearings until he sees that these changes have worked. In the meantime, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who nominated the agency head with oversight over the program, could not be reached for comment.

Councilmember Yvette Alexander said she would speak with Graham about establishing a central office to give out the contracts and monitor them. She also suggested that the city auditor's office become regularly involved.