D.C. to Share Data About Top Youth Offenders

By Robert E. Pierre
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The District is compiling a list of 60 of the most serious juvenile offenders in detention and will share information on their backgrounds with police and some community groups before allowing the youths to return home, especially to high-crime neighborhoods.

Under the program announced yesterday by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), organizations such as Peaceoholics will be asked to perform background checks on youths up for release from facilities such as Oak Hill. The goal is to determine whether neighborhood disputes might jeopardize the juvenile's chances for success after release and whether there are any threats against the juvenile or his family.

If significant concerns are raised, a youth's release could be delayed or he could be sent somewhere else.

The criteria for putting a youth on the most-serious list include previous convictions, behavior in confinement and runaway attempts.

Privacy is a long-standing tenet of the juvenile system, considered crucial so as not to ruin a young person's life. Vincent N. Schiraldi, the director of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, said the emphasis in the program is on safety for the juvenile offenders and the community around them.

It is illegal to make information about a juvenile's criminal record public. But information that is shared with police and community groups that offer services to released offenders is allowed because it is considered part of the treatment plan.

The increased information sharing comes after several cases in which juveniles held after committing serious crimes have been released and have committed more crimes. For example, 18-year-old Lafonte L. Carlton, who pleaded guilty three years ago in a fatal shooting, was charged with second-degree murder of a teenager last month.

Judges can commit young people to the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services until they turn 21, but some judges have been frustrated that the agency can release youths sooner without explanation to judges, police or community groups.

Schiraldi has presided for four years over sweeping changes at an agency that was on the brink of federal takeover when he was brought in by former mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). Schiraldi has been praised nationally for trying to reduce the racial disparity in criminal prosecution of black youths and for trying to steer his department, and its workers, away from punishment and toward rehabilitation.

As part of yesterday's announcement, the city is expanding a program that allows weekly visits by case workers and a police officer from 15 to 35 youths. Every Thursday, case managers meet with school, recreation and mental health officials and police to discuss progress.

Three groups committed to fighting violence -- Peaceoholics, the Alliance for Concerned Men and the East of the River Clergy-Police-Community Partnership -- are a critical component in the program. By conducting what Peaceoholics co-founder Ronald Moten calls "street background checks," they will help ensure that youths don't return to their old ways.

"The community has to take ownership of our youth," said the Rev. Donald Isaac, who heads the East of the River group. "The government has to realize that it's not up to them to solve the problem. It has to be solved in collaboration."

Liz Ryan, executive director of the Campaign for Youth Justice, which advocates for incarcerated youths, said the release of juvenile information is a significant concern.

"I have to see what information they are releasing and to whom," she said. "But I do think these community-based programs are a huge step forward."

Schiraldi's agency has made $6.2 million available so community agencies can design reentry programs for young offenders. City officials said yesterday that those services will be placed closer to the neighborhoods that have the highest number of youths under city supervision.

Youths who perform well will receive incentives, Schiraldi said, including movie passes or an early end to supervised probation.

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