DC Lawyers for Youth2

Amid a spike of youth violence within the city’s limits, DC Lawyers for Youth (DCLY) hosted a fundraiser May 12 to help improve the conditions in the juvenile justice system and to deter youth from entering it.

The “Stand for Youth Justice Day” raised more than $15,000 to make the youth justice system one of the smallest and best juvenile justice systems in the country, according to the organization’s website. As part of the fundraising effort, the organization held a happy hour at Local 16 Restaurant in Northwest D.C.

“All of the donations, which are 100 percent tax deductible, will support our work to advocate for youth justice reforms that put young people on a path to success,” R. Daniel Okonkwo, executive director of DCLY, told the AFRO.

The organization was instrumental in helping Judiciary Chair and Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) with the ground breaking Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016 on April 5. The bill has five key provisions: prioritizing rehabilitation, improving the conditions of confinement, reducing over incarceration through intervention and appropriate sentencing, improving data collection and analysis, and protecting abused and neglected immigrant children.

“This year we are specifically focused on ending the incarceration of youth in the adult D.C. Jail, stopping the use of solitary confinement of youth, and looking at how childhood trauma can affect young people,” he said.

Along with improving the juvenile justice system, Okonkwo said the schools also have a part in how children who have been incarcerated are dealt with. “Our schools and the justice system must account for and treat that trauma,” he said.

The District of Columbia defines a juvenile as a person under the age of 18. The Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services outlines procedures juveniles go through once they are arrested. If a juvenile 15 to 17 years old is charged with a violent crime, the Office of the Attorney General may charge the youth as an adult. According to the department, about 1600 youth are currently incarcerated.

“I care about the future of our youth, and the school-to-prison pipeline that we hear about in the news is real,” said Kimberly Bowers, DC Lawyers for Youth board member. “I see what happens when youth have positive influences and we give second chances to youth, so I’m really excited what this organization is doing as it relates to shrinking that pipeline also giving youth positive options.”