Article15 McDuffie speaking  youth hearing_June 2_2016_Fotor

Washington, D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary Chair Kenyan McDuffie speaks at a hearing. (AFRO Photo/Linda Poulson)

Washington, D.C. residents turned out in overwhelming numbers for a June 2 public hearing by the city council’s Committee on the Judiciary on a bill that would reform the District’s juvenile justice system.

The Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016 has five key provisions:

  • prioritizing rehabilitation, which would remove youth from adult correctional facilities, discharge the detainment of youth before hearings, protect juveniles under the age of 10 from being paired with older juvenile offenders, and enhance information between agencies that serve juveniles;
  • improving conditions of confinement by limiting the use of solitary confinement, informing family members of available resources, limit use of restraints and ban segregation;
  • reducing over incarceration through intervention and appropriate sentencing;
  • improving data collection and analysis;
  • protecting abused and neglected immigrant children;

“The omnibus legislation was drafted with the assistance of dozens of advocates, experts, and community members from across the city—all dedicated to the well-being of our District youth,” Committee on the Judiciary Chair Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) said at the hearing. “The bill also reflects proposals and input gathered from the Executive, the Office of the Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Superior Court, and the Public Defender Office. I am happy to report that in all of these conversations, there appears to be substantial agreement among the stakeholders on most of the provisions of the bill.”

The bill was introduced on April 5.

Council members Anita Bonds (D-At Large), David Grosso (I-At Large), LaRuby May (D-Ward 8), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson also attended the June 2 hearing.

“We recognize that young people are different than adults, and this bill does that,” said R. Daniel Okonkwo, executive director for DC Lawyers for Youth, an organization that seeks to improve the juvenile justice system. “This bill is an opportunity to align with national trends but also be a leader in juvenile justice, and prioritizing this in making sure these provisions are made into District law.”     

A letter of support for the bill was signed by 56 organizations and sent to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and council members on May 31. In the letter, the signatories advocated for changes to the District’s juvenile justice system. 

“The bill ensures that every detained young person will be housed in humane, age-appropriate and risk-appropriate facilities, supports the courts in the application of more age-appropriate sanctions, promotes restorative justice in prosecutions, protects young victims of abuse and neglect from deportation, and requires our government agencies to better track the success of their juvenile justice programming,” the letter stated in part.

“While the path a young person takes is ultimately determined by his or her own choices, this legislation is designed to ensure that we are doing everything we can to help them make the right decisions,” said McDuffie. “I look forward to hearing your recommendations and working with all of you over the next few months to make sure we get this bill right.”