Two of every three juveniles arrested in the District in the first three months of this year had at least one previous arrest on a charge serious enough to warrant referral to court, according to police figures compiled recently.
This recidivism rate for juveniles compares to a rate of only about one in four among adults arrested, according to police records.
Police officials said they blame a shortage of prosecutors and juvenile court judges for the growing number of repeat offenders among youths.
"Again and again and again," lamented Deputy Chief Maurice Turner, head of the police department's youth division. "It's just a repetitious circle of picking kids up for nasty crimes."
Turner said he sees an "escalation of the seriousness of the charges," as the number of a youth's arrests multiplies.
"A kid comes in and he goes to court. Nothing happens to him, they have no sense of responsibility for their actions, and it continues over into his adult life," Turner aid.
In the three months in which recidivism rate for juvenile offenders was measured, about 23 per cent of juveniles arrested were "no-papered" - never placed in the juvenile justice system - by prosecutors. Turner said that figure has risen to 33 per cent since the end of March.
The growing tendency to "no paper" youthful offenders derives directly from the shortage of juvenile court personnel, including staff members of the Office of the Corporation Counsel, which prosecutes juvenile cases.
Of the 1,267 criminal charges against juveniles presented to the corporation counsel in January, February and March this year, 292 were not taken to court, according to police records. A "lack of prosecutive merit" cited in 202 of those cases by the corporation counsel was used too often and unjustified, police officials said.
D.C. Corporation Counsel John R. Risher acknowledged that his office needs more lawyers and the courts have too few judges, but he said a staff shortage is not the reason for the rising "no-paper" rate.
"We began increasing our no-papering rate last September or October because it was my judgment that we were overpapering" and causing too many dismissals by judges, Risher said.
Risher said he is also a "firm believer that often a child's welfare is best attended to if you don't invoke the juvenile justice system.
"Love is what some children need, and they get it better if they are not in an institution," Risher said. He conceded that some youths have "learned to beat the system" and might be freed when incarceration was needed.
Illness or incapacity of a number of judges has reduced the D.C. Superior Court family division, which handles juvenile matters, to only one or two judges recently, Risher said.
Police figures show that adult court judges handled about 209 cases each during the first quarter of 1977, while juvenile judges had about 246 cases each.
In late 1976, Superior Court Chief Judge Harold H. Greene temporarily assigned six additional judges to juvenile court to help clear up a massive backlog of cases. Greene estimated that nearly half of juvenile cases do not need to be prosecuted. He ordered more intensive screening of arrested youths.
According to police, nearly 80 per cent of all juvenile cases processed by the department in the first quarter of 1977 were screened out. Of the 7,601 cases, including truants, runaways and other noncriminal categories, 6,069 were screened out, police said.
Police officials contend that they were responsible for "no-papering" on only 17, or 1.34 per cent of the cases sent to the corporation counsel.