Thursday, May 6, 2010

Let's Give Some More Kids a New Beginning

Look, I'm not a fan of taking every kid who commits a minor offense, locking him (or her) up, and throwing away the key, but violent offenders should not be on the street. If you wonder why the shootings, attacks involving juveniles, and yes, murders, are happening, look no further than an article in today's Washington Post.

Here's an excerpt:

Like [those the three 18-year-olds who murdered Shaw Middle School Principal Brian Betts], most of those under [the Department of Youth and Rehabilitative Services (DYRS)] supervision are not in detention centers. [S]ome live in group homes, which are staffed but not locked. Others . . . live at home and are supervised in the community. Only about 60 of the youths committed to DYRS live at its New Beginnings, and 160 or so with severe behavioral issues live in out-of-state facilities better able to deal with specialized needs.
When a juvenile is placed on probation . . . he would report to Court Social Services. A spokeswoman for D.C. Superior Court said the number of juveniles under the agency's supervision was not available. Other information about the agency, such as how many of its juveniles have been arrested in the past year and how many have absconded from custody, was also said to be unavailable.

Court Social Services, like DYRS, has a unit that tries to find youths who have walked away from a group home or who have stopped showing up for drug tests or other appointments.

But with dozens of juvenile absconders at any given time, DYRS does not have the resources to mount an intense search for every one of them. The agency's absconder unit is made up of three people, so it relies on police officers, who have to worry not only about scores of juveniles but also thousands of adults wanted by the courts.
You heard it folks, the city government, which is in charge of determining whether a youth is locked up, released to a group home, or placed on probation (not the court) only has room to hold 60 youth offenders in custody.  Some are not held because there simply is no room.  Those who escape, walk out of an unlocked group facility, or stop showing up for hearings only have to worry about 3 individuals tracking them down, unless they happen to run into a police officer when committing their next crime.  The current state of affairs is unacceptable.  Period.

The Washington Post article is not a revelation.  The Chief Judge of the D.C. Superior Court pointed out these problems as among the most serious facing the city at a forum in March, months before Mr. Betts's murder.  At that forum, I also raised the apparent lack of reliable statistics on what happens after an arrest -- convictions and sentencing -- both on the part of the court and the city, which is again evident from this article.

The Mayor or DC Council should immediately establish a task force to comprehensively address juvenile justice in the District. 

This task force should include representatives of the executive branch including DYRS, the Council, the judiciary, and the community.  It should consider best practices of states, municipalities, and the federal government; develop legislative and administrative reforms; determine what additional resources are needed (i.e. increased holding capacity for youth offenders, additional officers to track down absconders); and consider what mechanisms should be implemented to track results.  The Task Force should hold a series of open hearings, circulate a preliminary report within six months, and present a final report recommending tangible actions that our officials should take within nine months.

1 comment:

si said...

Also DYRS has NO facilities whatsoever for detaining juvenile GIRLS. Lately more & more robberies are involving females. Another question I have is: exactly how old is the max age for "kids" under DYRS? the 3 arrested for Bett's murder (who reportedly went on a Peaceaholics retreat last month while on the lam) are all 18. isn't that adult?