The District's continuing problems and ineffectiveness on how we are dealing with the juvenile offenders is troubling at best. Yet as we speak the system continues to fail the residents of this city, the youth which are clearly at risk and every victim. Many through no fault of their own have been involved in some way with a juvenile offender. We simply lack acceptable standards here in the Nation's capital. We don't have a system for "early learning" for the low profile offender. Then before we realize it they become more intensely involved in varying levels of trouble.
Under my plan, early learning would bring first time offenders into a circle of counseling, public service and oversight that would began to mold them into knowing, and practicing what is right. This done through community engagement, peer counseling, school intervention and professional advice with varying levels of oversight and intervention for both offender and parent. Working to ultimately bring a better understanding to the potential seriousness early on will win some children over and prevent them from becoming inordinately repeat offenders. Others will no doubt learn life's lessons further on, by performing more serious crimes. Separating some youths from their peers, their neighborhoods and their gangs is the only way to bring them into enough of a positive environment to forcefully begin to change their patterns. This action must in some cases be earlier on than we now currently do so. Our current system fails in doing this, as we put serious offenders in group homes in bad neighborhoods, and the lacking oversight and management of these homes falls into organizations that we pay to perform, but set no standards to see that they succeed. District oversight is lax, and we have more of a "wash our hands approach" rather than properly over seeing these agencies to assure that our youth are protected, guided, and returned to society in a manner that is acceptable.
Petty theft, burglary, simple assault, building up to a far too often to a more serious crime involving the use of a weapon. More often then not, a gun. Then ultimately, robbery with the use of a firearm, assault with intent to kill, and homicide. Gangs, drugs, crews and the vicious circle of turf wars and protecting areas of our city that are quickly, and quietly too often taken over by these gangs and their members. Our concern as a city and a society is late in responding to the level of seriousness for which it continues, the stronger it builds and with such, the more difficult it then becomes to correct or even bring under control.
Let's face facts, few youths guilty of a felony get out of jail and run to the first church to beg to be forgiven. Far to often there is no one there to offer support, guidance, and reasoning, along with the necessary requirements to stay off the streets and out of trouble. Instead they quickly return to the same gang, or crew, and engage in further breaking the laws. Until which time they get caught again eventually committing enough of a serious crime that the system catches up and changes the dynamics of the consequences.
I suggest that our adult crimes of serious levels would diminish if we took stricter measures on the youth offenders. Served by the old lessons learned strategy rather than the current methods of just looking the other way.
Over the years I have met countless families and loved ones that tell me time and time again that they begged the system to do more to help. Usually without fail at the scene as they grieve over the loss of a loved one, or in the hallway of the court house. We have all seen on television a mother break down and cry over her child's death, yet never be challenged to answer the simple question, why was your 15 year old on the streets at 3AM in the morning in the first place. Far to often we cast blame on the city, on our police, on our elected, but seldom do we complete the sentence with I only wish I had done more. Sadly, each year countless lives are lost in the District of Columbia where mothers, fathers, older siblings, aunts, uncle's and grandparents alike failed their own. Sadly, each year countless lives are lost in The District by a system that continues to to this day to fail our youth!
Who should bear the burden: It is vital that we first set higher standards for oversight of our troubled youth. We all should take some responsibility. First and foremost our elected officials must take the initiative to carefully study the loop holes in our laws, the sentencing guidelines, and the readiness of the court system to pro-actively put into place a support system to disallow serious offenders from being back on our streets within hours of their arrest. Especially if a gun in used or there is serious injury or death. There should be no question that any youth accused of a felony with a gun, armed robbery, assault with intent to kill, or a homicide be required to be held until a preliminary investigation is conducted. To do this I think we need an overhaul of the justice system in both juvenile court and adult criminal court.
First we should institute the Magistrate Court System where an immediate arraignment takes place, within hours of arrest, while the police officer is still on duty. Bringing, the accused, their parents, (if they can be located) the arresting officers, a court appointed(public defendant) and a representative from the Office of Attorney General together to first contemplate the charges. With a list of past offenses, and details of the current offense. The Court should 1) consider the time since the last crime, 2) seriousness of the current crime, 3) contemplate if the structure of parents and guardians can control the youth and prevent a repeat of crimes until a more comprehensive Court session can move the case forward. If there is any doubt then the court should have the mandate to house the accused in a secure facility, safely off the streets with no co-mingling of acquaintances from the gang, crew or neighborhood.
This would quickly bring badly needed protection to our neighborhoods, other youth, the accused and help grieving families know that justice is working swiftly and appropriately to offer justice. In recent months sadly enough, a troubled youth involved in a gang, shot another youth and then stood by to witness the very gun he used as it was used to rob and kill an innocent person. A few short weeks later another witness was left unprotected by the system, was then killed by one of the others involved in both previous shootings. Creating a horrible circle of homicide, robbery, death, and passing a gun around that eventually left two dead, two jailed, one accused of murder, and one seriously injured. All the while two of the youths were under the corrective measures of the the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services and living in a group home with outside managed care. One has to wonder, who's responsible.
Simply put, youths using guns should have a zero tolerance level in the District void of any political infusion or flexibility to the law. It should be a clear statement that if you use a gun in a felony or participate in such use, you will be held. This will cut down, and start the long process of making right on our goal of creating safer streets for our youth and every resident.
The District of Columbia, Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services:
This agency continues to fail the residents of this city, and the youth imposed as wards of the department along with every at risk youth in the city. This failure has cost the District countless millions of dollars, and sadly, countless lives. Ward 4 particularly has been hard hit with homicides in the past 24 months related to youths that should have been held under stricter guidelines.
The city is backing off of their responsibility by not properly handling these youths and by not offering proper oversight of the agencies that they place these youth offenders in custody of. This oversight or blatant act of disregard is adding up in both money spent, and failures of youth that commit more serious crimes, or lose their lives to old style gang retaliatory acts. The District is incapable of managing the troubled youth program and vastly under experienced in policing the very organizations that now assign responsibility to. Leaving some troubled youth to be back on the street, under supervised, and often running in the very same gangs that they were associated with before their arrest. The residence that the youth is then assigned to blatantly does not keep track of where the youth goes and with you they run the streets with.
We are hiring group home management with a void of experience in creating the proper structure to safely house these troubled youth. Creating in and of itself, danger zones of perpetually evolving problems often in the very neighborhoods where the youth first committed a serious crime. The District refuses to accept responsibility, the group home management refused to accept responsibility and the circle continues. Clearly, not enough is being done, and not enough oversight is in place to safeguard our city of this problem continuing.
The oversight and responsibility of the DYRS must be taken out of the political arena and placed in a long term capacity where the Director is not appointed by a politician, but rather comes to the District government with penal system background, and an education based on corrections. This change will empower the agency to tighten the reins and categorize the criminals and put into place the proper format for achieving the long term effects we need. To do so we need legislation and the insightful approach to first understand the problems, and how a continuation will only continue to end in failure.
As Susie Cambria so brilliantly summarizes in her report: CHILDREN AND YOUTH, PUBLIC POLICY ANALYSIS, Getting Serious About Youth gang/crew violence. http://keepandshare.com/doc/2973261/gettingseriousaboutyouth-gangviolence0711-pdf-july-10-2011-10-25-pm-686k?dn=y
This problem is long lived in the District and more must be done in order to begin to see daylight at the end of the tunnel. This publication clearly offers an accurate and accountable perspective on the continuation of the District's failings. If we fail to begin change, then the system as it is portrayed will continue to surmount a continuation of failure. Costing us more lives, millions of dollars more, and adding countless families to the throngs of already grieving families that beg for this to stop.
Candidate, Ward 4 City Council