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After escape, DYS updates security

DYS state fatalities that cost millions to build stand nearly empty and yet private providers running programs in out dated old buildings that weren't built to be securing people as lock up facilities being used.

A teenager who escaped from a youth detention facility and then allegedly killed a 66-year-old man in Fall River in November had been able to slip out of state custody because a door had no alarm and workers lost track of him, according to a report released Friday.

The Old Colony YMCA, which runs the security facility on behalf of the state, is in the process of installing alarms on all exit doors and “exploring additional security options that comply with the fire code,” the Department of Youth Services said.

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The written account from the Department of Youth Services provided new details of how Alexander Mills escaped Nov. 10. He remained at large until Nov. 28, when prosecutors say he fatally shot Donald A. DePina, a taxi driver and former veterans services director who served in Vietnam.

DePina's son, Barry DePina, 29, of New Bedford, was angered to learn the Old Colony building lacked alarms at the time of Mills’s escape. He said the current fixes are long overdue.

“Basically, it took my father getting shot in the head for them to do this,” the younger DePina said. “I find that incredibly ridiculous. I’m sorry, but it’s outrageous. This should have been done many, many years ago.”

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More than 270 escape DYS facilities in 4-year span

The most prominent escapee, Alexander Mills, was charged last month in the murder of a New Bedford cabdriver.

 

DYS said the Old Colony escape had also spurred a set of statewide reforms, including the hiring of an outside consultant who will review all procedures at its secure programs.

Mills is being held without bail on murder charges and is to be arraigned April 4 in Bristol Superior Court. A juvenile has also been charged in the slaying.

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The state report said Mills, who was committed to Old Colony for punching a boy and taking his cellphone, should have been stopped before he ever made it to the alarm-less door.

According to the agency, the Old Colony worker responsible for supervising Mills’s transition to another floor in the building “failed to communicate” with staff on the other level, giving Mills the opening he needed to make his escape.

State officials did not identify the worker or say whether they had disciplined any employees in relation to the case.

Barry DePina, when informed of the communication issue, said he hoped the offending worker would reach out to him.

“I want somebody to at least take responsibility for what happened,” DePina said, adding that his family is considering legal options. “I want that person who screwed up to come to me and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

According to DYS, the Old Colony staff has been conducting monthly emergency response drills since December. The state is also reviewing the program’s reporting compliance and staffing standards.

The state is also conducting a review of the effectiveness of efforts by DYS and law enforcement agencies to find youths who escape.

“We take the safety of the hundreds of youth under our care, our staff, and community members very seriously and will continue to make any necessary improvements to strengthen our well-established programs,” DYS spokeswoman Michelle Hillman said.

According to a separate incident report obtained through a public records request and dated Dec. 1, authorities tried to serve a DYS warrant at several addresses for relatives when there was suspicion Mills was being harbored by family.

The report states that Mills’s mother told DYS he had gone to his stepsister’s home in Florida, but police there did not find evidence of his being in the state. His mother later admitted she was not honest with DYS staff, the report said.

More than 270 youths have escaped from DYS in the last four years, and most were returned to custody within 72 hours, but 10 were not found for more than three months, the Globe reported in January, citing state records. Thirty-five of those who escaped committed crimes after absconding.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my father,” Barry DePina said Friday. “And it’s going to be that way for the rest of my life. I’m angry. Yeah, I’m angry. I don’t think it should take anybody losing their life for this to happen.”

 

Jan Ransom of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.

 

 

 

 

 

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