GUEST BLOG: A Call to Action: Making the Youth Rehabilitation Act Work for All Residents of DC

 

The guest blogger is a resident of Capitol Hill. In 2015, her husband was robbed at gunpoint while walking home from the Stadium-Armory Metro Station, a mile and a half from the U.S. Capitol. Their story was featured in an article in The Washington Post on Dec. 4, 2016: The crimes against them were terrifying, but the judicial system made it worse.

On February 9, 2017, Councilmember Charles Allen, Chairperson of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, will convene a public oversight roundtable to consider “Sentencing in the District of Columbia: Agency Roles and Responsibilities,” to include discussion of the Youth Rehabilitation Act.  The hearing notice with details is here.

By Kristin Van Goor

The recent Washington Post series on repeat violent offenders in D.C. has sparked community interest, intense debate, and grassroots advocacy. One of the central issues explored in the series is the application of a decades-old policy – the Youth Rehabilitation Act (YRA) – in the sentencing of juveniles who have been found guilty of multiple violent crimes in the District. The purpose of the YRA is to provide a second chance to young offenders who have the potential to be productive, law-abiding citizens. Personal experience and the data and analysis stemming from the Post investigative series has led me, and many of my neighbors, to question if the YRA, a 30+-year old policy, is still aligned with the needs, values and expectations of the residents of DC. I believe it is not. I believe that the people of DC should have higher standards for public safety.

As the ANC Commissioners and DC Council debate these issues, I encourage the residents of DC to weigh in. We are at an inflection point. The Post has provided us with months of research and investigation into the YRA and the impact on offenders and victims. The Post has proven that our “second chance” policy has loopholes that allow for third, fourth, and more chances for violent offenders. At a recent community meeting on the YRA, there was some confusion about the focus of the current debate, so I will reiterate: I am advocating for the YRA to be applied only to non-violent offenses and only applied once. I applaud those who received YRA sentencing for non-violent offenses and have turned their lives around.

I believe that leniency in the absence of rehabilitation programs is irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Allowing the YRA to stand in its current form is an example of “feel good” legislation that fails to do good. If we want to give youth offenders a second chance, we have to do so responsibly and put proven, appropriately resourced programs in place to support rehabilitation. We must collect data on how these programs are performing and reevaluate them periodically.

I believe that we need to raise our standards for eligibility for YRA. Before we determine that someone would benefit from YRA and is amenable to rehabilitation, we need standards for evaluating the situation. For example, if someone has forgone public programs and services and rejected opportunities for growth and development (e.g., dropped out of school), we should take a critical eye to the appropriateness of the YRA for that individual. If a person is committing violent offenses, especially with an intent to terrorize (e.g., repeatedly targeting the same victim or neighborhood), I believe they should lose YRA eligibility. Victims deserve a second chance too – the chance to leave a traumatic experience behind and move forward. Unfortunately, my family was victimized twice by the same offenders and our neighborhood was victimized by the same offenders in the week that followed. Only one of the three was caught and he received YRA sentencing.

I believe that violent crime is different and crosses a line to a place that is not appropriate for YRA. The YRA should not apply to violent crimes such as rape and crimes committed with deadly weapons. Denise Krepp, ANC 6B Commissioner, has proposed changes to address this issue, and I support her proposed changes. Murder, rape, and crimes involving guns are not youth delinquency – these are serious crimes that destroy lives and livelihoods. They are crimes that have a profound, lasting impact on their victims and the punishment for these crimes should be aligned with their severity.

I believe that repeat offenders should not benefit from the YRA. Allowing repeat offenders to receive the benefit of reduced sentences puts a target on the back of past and future victims. What is our threshold? At what point do we refuse to be victimized repeatedly? For me, my threshold is the second offense.

I believe that data collected on youth offenses, sentencing and application of the YRA must be accurate. For example, if a crime is committed with a loaded, operational firearm and a person is found guilty of that crime, DC should maintain an accurate record of the crime and the offender. We must have accurate data on crime and how our justice system is functioning. Currently, we have crimes committed with real, loaded guns that are being charged as robbery with an imitation weapon. I believe that the YRA benefit of sealing youth records should be preserved, and I am open to discussion of whether a person who commits a single, non-deadly violent crime should be eligible for YRA sentencing and sealing of his or her youth record. Regardless of how the YRA is applied in this scenario, we should not be building databases of sanitized offenses and alternate versions of reality and using those flawed databases for policy development.

Taken together, the Post has exposed that DC is unusually lenient in its approach to dealing with violent, repeat offenders, that a chasm has developed between the intent of the YRA and its practical application in the 30 years since its enactment, that people in DC who have been victimized feel the justice system has failed them, and that public safety has been compromised by flawed polices. The DC Council has committed to taking up these issues in 2017 and we have strong community leaders, such as Denise Krepp, advocating for policy changes that align with the values and needs of DC residents. I encourage my fellow DC residents to consider these issues and make your views heard so that reforms to the YRA can be done in a manner that is thoughtful, deliberate, and reflects the consensus of the community.

 

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In Case You Missed It: “Second Chance City” Series

UPDATED: Jan. 17, 2017

The Washington Post “Second Chance City” series examines issues related to repeat violent offenders in the District of Columbia.

Part I:   How an accused rapist kept getting second chances from the D.C. justice system (Washington Post, May 14, 2016)

Part II:  How an inmate who repeatedly threatened to rape his guards ended up on a bus back to D.C. (Washington Post, July 29, 2016)

Part III:  Second-chance law for young criminals puts violent offenders back on D.C. streets (Washington Post, Dec. 3, 2016)

Part IV:  The crimes against them were terrifying, but the judicial system made it worse (Washington Post, Dec. 4, 2016)

Part V:  He says he robbed 100 people in D.C. Could he have been stopped before he killed? (Washington Post, Dec. 4, 2016)

Part VI:  In D.C., the federal government gives released criminals many chances to fail (Washington Post, Dec. 28, 2016)

Related News Coverage:

D.C. leaders agree to reform Youth Act (Washington Post, Dec. 24, 2016)

New Questions Arise About D.C.’s Criminal Justice System (WAMU/Kojo Nnamdi Show, Jan. 2, 2017)

In D.C., it’s about to be a crime for offenders to tamper with GPS tracking devices (Washington Post, Jan. 4, 2017)

Second Chances And Repeat Offenders: Challenges For The Agency Overseeing Probation And Parole In The District (WAMU/Kojo Nnamdi Show, Jan. 10, 2017)

Related Opinion Pieces:

Second chances: More harm than good? (Letter to the Editor from ANC Commissioner Denise Krepp) (Dec. 7, 2016)

Should young violent offenders get a second chance? (WaPo Editorial Board, Dec. 11, 2016)

Muriel Bowser’s joke response to a Post investigation  (Colbert King, Dec. 26, 2016)

D.C.’s criminal justice system is a threat to public safety (Colbert King, Dec. 30, 2016)

D.C.’s ‘beyond broken’ criminal-justice system is an outrage (WaPo Editorial Board, Dec. 30, 2016)

The Shameful Washington Post Series on the Youth Rehabilitation Act (Capitol Hill Corner, Dec. 30, 2016)

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Man The Block CITYWIDE Event, May 16: Join the Effort to Promote Safe Passage for All DC Students

MTB OCTFME

WHO:  The Man The Block Safe Passage Program (www.mantheblock.org), established in 2011, promotes safe passage for all DC students through coordinated and collaborative efforts of schools, city government, civic organizations, and whole communities.

WHAT:  With the increase of violence in DC, including against DC school students, the Man The Block CITYWIDE Event is an opportunity to join and help promote this important initiative.  The goals are to:

  • Create the visible presence of a multitude of concerned, caring, and encouraging adults from various sectors of community, instilling a sense of safety, community, and citizenship across DC for youth.
  • Promote greater awareness of, and address the need for, a community call-to-action for Safe Passage for ALL DC youth.
  • Model for young people positive youth development through community responsibility, participation, and collaboration throughout the city.
  • Increase sustained volunteerism for the Safe Passage Program for schools around the city.

WHEN:  Monday, May 16, 2016, during school dismissal times (approximately 1-2 hours). There will also be a culminating closing event at 6:30-8:30pm, Location TBD.

WHERE:  The goal is to have volunteers at and near schools throughout the District.

EXPECTATIONS AND GUIDELINES FOR VOLUNTEERS:  Click here [PDF]

HOW TO BECOME INVOLVED:

Email info@ManTheBlock.org

Call (202) 388-1011

Visit 770 M Street, SE, Washington, DC

Join a MTB Planning Conference Call  (Tuesdays at 1:30pm, (641)-715-3276, Code 769949)

RELATED MEDIA COVERAGE:

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The State of Public Safety in the District: Do You Agree With the Mayor?

Mayor Muriel Bowser delivered her annual State of the District address on Tuesday, March 22.  Below is an excerpt from her speech, as prepared. To read her full speech, click here.

Now, let’s look at the progress made since 2007 in another pillar of a strong community – public safety.

● 10 years of nationally recognized Chief of Police Cathy Lanier

● The Rosenbaum Task Force established the framework for EMS reform

● Crime rates heading in the right direction

● Fire Chief Gregory Dean lured from Seattle

● $500,000 for security camera rebates, to keep you safe

● Working toward 4,000 police – a force that looks like the community they serve

● Community grants and strong neighborhood partnerships

● And an unwavering commitment to those we serve

As a result of all this – and the thousands of first responders who work so hard every single day – we are a safer and stronger city. But like many big cities, we had some challenges this past year.….. too many homicides, and too many robberies.

So we’re approaching the challenge in a number of ways. And I want to be very clear about something. I believe the best way to fight crime is to give people a fighting chance.

I have met so many young men and women who feel left out of our prosperity. They’re not looking for a handout. They’re just looking for a hand up. So we are extending our hands.

Whether it’s the LEAP Academy…….Career Connections…..or the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program, we are giving our most vulnerable residents a path they never knew existed.

And that includes returning citizens. Next year, my Administration will take over operations of the DC Jail, including the Correctional Treatment Center. This will allow us to bring back more of our federal prisoners sooner – so we can give them extra support and services before they head home.

We will enhance job training and mental health services. We will do more to reconnect family members and loved ones. Addressing those root causes of crime is our starting point.

We are also keeping our Metropolitan Police Department on the cutting edge – with tools and best practices – that prevent crime, and help us solve crimes when they happen. We are growing our police force to protect our growing city…..thanks to the support of Councilmember McDuffie, we will make it easier for those experienced officers from military and other police departments to join our ranks.

And this year, you will see a public safety academy at our very own Anacostia High School!

We will continue to put in place the policies and practices that keep the trust between our residents and law enforcement.

And that includes implementing the most progressive – and most transparent – Body Worn Camera program in the country! Because we believe that transparency and accountability strengthen our community.

By the end of this month, more than 650 more police officers will be equipped with a Body Worn Camera. And by the end of this year, every single patrol officer will be wearing one!

That means Brianne Nadeau will see them in Ward 1, and Yvette Alexander will know all of the officers in Ward 7 wear them too.

A strong MPD is fundamental to our safety, and so are our fire department and emergency services. Thanks to a new law spearheaded by Councilmember Cheh, we now have more safety and health protections for our firefighters.

But there is more we can do — more we must do – to strengthen our emergency services. And you will soon start to see tangible signs of EMS reform

Between 2002 and 2015, despite our growing city, the District put out the same number of ambulances on the street each and every day.

The city grew, but the number of ambulances didn’t. So we increased that number by 10 last spring. And starting next week, we will put as many as 30 more ambulances on the street during peak times.

But that’s not all. Over the next few months, we will put in place more than 30 more 911 call takers and dispatchers!

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Update: Challenge to D.C.’s Concealed-Carry Gun Law

On Monday, March 7th, a federal judge sided with the District of Columbia in an ongoing dispute over the city’s concealed-carry gun law, ruling that the city can continue to enforce it while a lawsuit proceeds.

At issue is whether D.C. can require an applicant for a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public to show a “good reason to fear injury to his or her person or property or has any other proper reason for carrying” the weapon.

In denying a motion for a preliminary injunction, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia concluded that those who are challenging the law had not shown that their lawsuit was likely to be successful or that an injunction against D.C.’s gun law would be in the public interest, particularly in such a densely populated area as Washington, D.C..

In her 31-page ruling, Judge Kollar-Kotelly noted that appeals courts in other parts of the country had approved of laws in New York, New Jersey and Maryland that are similar to the D.C. law being challenged.

Opponents of the law in question were initially granted a preliminary injunction by another judge in May 2015. However, that ruling was appealed, and the appeals court concluded that the judge — a visiting judge from New York — didn’t have the authority to decide the case because it went beyond the bounds of his temporary assignment.  Judge Kollar-Kotelly was then assigned to the case and reconsidered the request for preliminary relief.

The decision on Monday has been appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

To ultimately prevail in this lawsuit, D.C. will have to demonstrate that the law in question is designed to promote a substantial governmental interest and that the city acted reasonably in determining that the regulations would in fact accomplish those interests.

The case is Brian Wrenn, et al. vs. District of Columbia, et al., Civil Action No. 15-162.

Related media coverage:

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Metro Transit Police to get new, more visible uniforms

Metro News Release, March 11, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 11.41.07 AM

“Can you see us now?”

At the direction of Metro General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld, most Metro Transit Police Officers will soon be wearing brighter, more visible uniforms.

The neon yellow color block design with reflective trim will help Metro customers to more easily find MTPD officers on station platforms and trains. MTPD officers currently wear a dark navy blue uniform that can be hard to see in a crowd or in low-light conditions.

The uniforms are being procured now and are expected to be on the system starting this summer. The measure is one of several steps MTPD has taken in response to customer concerns and to reassure riders the system is safe. Those include:

  • Increasing patrols on buses, trains and in stations through reallocation of resources by transferring revenue security to an outside firm.
  • Using limited-duty officers to provide additional “eyes and ears” at key locations
  • Implementation of “power hour” deployments that increase the number of officers on duty by overlapping the day and evening shifts on select days.

“Customers told me they wanted to see more uniformed officers on buses and in the rail system,” said Wiedefeld. “The fact is, in some cases, riders sometimes couldn’t see MTPD officers even though they were there. These new uniforms will go a long way toward making our officers stand out and give customers some more piece of mind when riding Metro.”

The increase in the number of Metro Transit Police officers on rail and bus system and enhanced uniforms to increase visibility of law enforcement personnel in stations and on buses are outlined in GM/CEO Wiedefeld’s Customer Accountability Report (CARe) as it relates to improving safety, security and restoring public trust.  For more information about CARe please visit wmata.com/gmplan.

 

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Why the Lack of Transparency? Stipend-Based Violence Intervention Program Reports Will Not Be Public

Yesterday, the DC Council unanimously approved the plan to pay stipends to up to 50 at-risk individuals to participate in a violence intervention program if they remain crime-free, as part of the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2016

A last minute amendment introduced by council member Kenyan McDuffie — which also passed unanimously — makes the annual report for the stipend program exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and thus not available to the public.  The section in question reads as follow:

(c)(1) Beginning on January 31, 2017, and by January 31 of each year thereafter, the [Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement] shall provide a report to the Council, protective of personally-identifying information, which includes the following information from the reporting period and in the aggregate:

(i)   The number of individuals successfully recruited and engaged;
(ii)  The duration of individuals’ participation;
(iii) The status of participants’ progress; and
(iv) The participants’ age, race or ethnicity, gender, and ward of residence.

(2) The information contained in this report shall be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

The rationale given?

According to councilmember McDuffie, making the report exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act “ensures that the confidentiality of the personally-identifiable information of existing and potential ONSE participants is maintained.”

But, as required by the provision just quoted, the report will include information in the aggregate that does not include any personally-identifiable information.

Why keep that kind of information secret?

As one commenter noted, this “will make it harder to know whether [the] unorthodox anti-crime approach is actually working.”

The legislation, as passed, will now go to the Mayor for signature.  If you object to the secrecy, let the Mayor know.  There’s an online form to submit comments here.

 

 

 

 

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Proposed Stipend-Based Violence Intervention Program: What’s Your Opinion?

On March 1st, next Tuesday, the DC Council will vote again on the proposed stipend-based violence intervention program that it preliminarily approved (unanimously) on February 2nd as part of anti-crime legislation called the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2016 [Read text here. Read Committee Report here].  If it wins final approval by the District Council, it will head to the Mayor for action (and, ultimately, Congress would have to approve it under the District of Columbia Home Rule Act).

Are you in favor or against?  Information and links are provided below to help you make up your mind.  Then let your council member know how you feel. [Names and contact information here].

The proposed program, modeled on a 9-year-old program in Richmond, California, would identify individuals “who pose a high risk of participating in, or being a victim of, violent criminal activity” and then pay them a stipend to remain crime-free and follow a program “involving life planning, trauma informed therapy, and mentorship.”

The amount of the stipend is not specified but the fiscal impact statement submitted with the bill assumes a stipend of $9,000 for 50 individuals each year, based on the Richmond program.

For an in-depth look at the Richmond program, a violence intervention program adopted by Baltimore that isn’t stipend-based, and an existing program in DC to help at-risk youth called the Capital Guardian Youth Challenge Academy that the DC Attorney General would like to see expanded, read WAMU’s recent three-part series called DC’s New Angles on Fighting Crime:

For two opinion pieces in favor of the proposed DC stipend program:

And here are two opinion pieces against the proposal:

For additional background:

 

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DC At-Risk Youth: “An Opportunity for a Second Chance is Waiting”

The Capital Guardian Youth ChalleNGe Academy is seeking applicants for its next sessions starting July 11, 2016.

This Academy — a service of the Government of the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense through the National Guard — provides opportunities for personal growth, self-improvement and academic achievement for District of Columbia youth who are unemployed, drug-free and law-free high-school dropouts, 16 to 18 years of age.

The 17½-month-long program includes five (5) months of residential activities and twelve (12) months of post-residential support from a specially trained mentor from each youth’s community.

Core components of the program are:

  • Responsible Citizenship
  • Academic Excellence
  • Life-Coping Skills
  • Service to Community
  • Health and Hygiene
  • Job Skills Training
  • Leadership/Followership
  • Physical Fitness

For more information, a virtual tour, and a link to the application form, visit http://www.cgyca.org.

 

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Does Metro Need More Cops on Trains?

The shooting on the D.C. Metro’s Green Line today by a 15-year-old “capped a string of brazen attacks on riders in recent months — with at least eight other assaults, robberies and violent incidents on the subway and bus system since November.”  USA Today, Feb. 23, 2016.

A writer in the Washington Post has called for more cops on Metro trains:  “What riders want to see is more cops riding the rails. Police officers can’t see everything, either. But people can see them– and that includes bad guys. A police officer’s presence can deter trouble, especially inside the trains. After all, that’s where riders feel most vulnerable.”  (Washington Post, Feb. 9, 2016)

If you agree, let Metro leadership know by submitting a comment on the Metro Customer Contact Form.  “Safety” is not a topic option, but you can select “Service.”

Related:

As reported by WUSA9 on Jan. 6, 2016:

MetroTransit Police estimate that about 50 percent of the 368 robberies on the rail system in 2015 were committed by juveniles . . .

About 8,000 to 9,000 students daily now ride the rails for free after Mayor Muriel Bowser announced in August the $7 million initiative to get students to and from school more efficiently. The program is an expansion of the system that has allowed students to ride the bus system at no cost.

No additional security was added with the change.

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