Can D.C. end its juvenile justice farce?

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, June 12, 2010

I wish I could say that the slaughter of black youth by other black youth is ending. It's not.

The killings go on, largely unnoticed, because death doesn't come in clusters (the possible exception being the March 30 drive-by shooting on South Capitol Street that left three dead).

Thus you are forgiven for not knowing about Eugene Jeffrey Dixon, 17, of Brandywine Street SE, who was killed a couple of weeks ago in Oxon Hill; or that 17-year-old Durand Lucas was shot and killed over the weekend, as reported by Bill Myers of the Examiner.

You have no way of knowing that at the time of their deaths, Dixon and Lucas were under the supervision of the city's Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, also reported by the Examiner. Or that at least four juvenile offenders under D.C. supervision have been killed this year and that at least nine others have been charged with murder.

You are in the dark about those things because they make the city look bad, especially DYRS and its champion, Mayor Adrian Fenty.

In our nation's capital, juvenile justice is a revolving door, with young criminals returning to the streets almost before the arresting cops can catch their breath. It's called community placement.

Asked by the Examiner if the DYRS anti-detention, community-based approach is still working, Peter Nickles -- more the mayor's consigliore than the city's attorney general -- said, "I don't think it has failed."

Thank goodness Nickles, Fenty and DYRS don't have the last word on public safety and the rehabilitation of young offenders.

D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At Large), a tenacious and effective legislator, doesn't share the laissez faire attitude toward juvenile crime that is so prevalent in city hall. This week Catania announced the appointment of the noted law firm Nixon Peabody LLP to serve as special counsel to his health committee to look for solutions to the city's chronic problem of youth violence.

"This much is clear," Catania said in a news release, "the District's current approach to addressing these problems is not working, and it is time for us to consider fresh ideas.

"The March 30 shootings on South Capitol Street," the statement said, "highlighted a problem that has existed for far too long in our city." And he put his finger on the situation: "Many of our kids are being raised without the parenting and support they need to develop socially."

"Frequently," said Catania, "this leads to behavioral problems and violence." Would that the mayor could, at least, acknowledge that truth. Instead, Fenty relies on a DYRS strategy that places juvenile offenders in the community under the supervision of contractors, some of whom can hardly take care of themselves.

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