D.C. officials find election leverage with youth reform
Mayor Muriel Bowser has said she wants a report on the city’s Youth Rehabilitation Act within the next few months. Her end game? To have a legislative reform package in front of the D.C. Council by autumn, before she announces her re-election intentions.
The mayor and lawmakers need to slow their roll.
For starters, neither the YRA nor the criminal justice system is broken, and there are far more moving parts than “Law & Order” can portray in an hour.
Some basics of the D.C. real situation you may be familiar with; others you may not. For example: The law and the system grant judicial discretion to judges to order warrants for juvenile suspects and offenders, to hand down sentences on young offenders and to determine how a young criminal is sentenced.
Also embedded in the D.C. system is the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, which “supervises” D.C. offenders. The job of CSOSA, which Congress created in 1997, is to keep track of offenders by, for example, monitoring whether offenders are wearing “ankle bracelets,” keeping their curfews and reporting to their probation officers.
In addition, progressive politics has a role, as the initial intent of the YRA is to punish youthful offenders, help rehabilitate them and even expunge their criminal records if they stay on the straight and narrow. And, in case you’re wondering, violent offenders are included in the rehabilitation aspect of the YRA.
If offenders don’t stay on the straight and narrow, you often read about that fact in The Washington Times and other news outlets when they become suspects or victims in other crimes. But if CSOSA performs its job, not so much.
So there you have it. The courts, the YRA bureaucracy, CSOSA and, of course, the Metropolitan Police Department, all trying to keep track of the bad-mother-shut-your-mouth youths on the streets of D.C. But wait, there’s more.
There’s also the D.C. Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, D.C. school system, D.C. housing authority, D.C. human services and D.C. health department.
Then there’s the federal government, which controls and pays for D.C. courts, prosecutes violent youthful offenders and administers the U.S. Marshals Service to go after the bad guys (and gals).
No need to wonder why and how quickly juvenile offenders become repeat offenders. Indeed, there are too many moving parts. But that’s also why the mayor and the council need to stay in their lane.
See, the mayor mouthed off and blamed the courts and the justice system for the violence, bloodshed and young repeat offenders on D.C. streets. The judges are fulfilling their lawful responsibilities. However, the District’s lawand-order stance is weakened by the ineffectiveness among the YRA, CSOSA and CJCC. Too many hands spoil the pot, which the writers of the highly successful “Law & Order” brand fully understood.
Furthermore, the council is hardly prepared to begin to digest what works, what does not work and how the relationship between the law (YRS), CSOSA and CJCC should continue. After all, Charles Allen doesn’t assume the chairmanship of the Public Safety and Judiciary Committee until January, he has not been a member of the panel’s current makeup, and the new chairs of other committees won’t be seated until January. Those new chairs will be playing catch-up, too. Mr. Allen has said hearings on the YRA is a top priority of his.
Honestly, he and other committee heads are already behind the eight ball, since their interest is a reaction to a series of articles in The Washington Post. The issue of youths in the criminal justice system is certainly one worthy of public discussion.
Too many young people and adults are both the victims and perpetrators of juvenile crime.
But the political calendar dictates criminal intent if the council moves unprepared. By this time next year, after the council has “passed” YRA reforms, the mayor and council members (including Chairman Phil Mendelson) will have decided whether they will seek re-election. Bad timing, for sure.
YRA enforcement, and CSOSA and CJCC effectiveness and accountability need vigorous oversight. Lawmakers and the Bowser administration are simply ill-prepared for a tough grilling.
Their fast track is criminally negligent. Haste makes waste.