D.C. Council member Wilhelmina Rolark of Ward 8 has reintroduced legislation that would re-enact, in an unsubstantially modified way, an archaic, discredited law: The Federal Youth Corrections Act. This act, passed by Congress in 1950 for the District of Columbia, was repealed by Congress last October. The law provided a sentencing option for any defendant under the age of 22 -- regardless of criminal history or nature of crime committed.
It did have a narrow provision excluding those convicted of crimes of violence while armed. And there were special rehabilitative measures, including academic programming, vocational training and psychological counseling. Offenders sentenced under this act were housed separately from more seasoned adult offenders.
But, astonishingly, under this law a so-called "youth" could be convicted of first-degree murder and be released, on the average, in about three years. An adult, convicted of the same crime, would have to serve a minimum of 12 years. Yet the victim in either case remains dead for the same length of time: forever.
It is commendable that as a result of my opposition to her original plan, council member Rolark has re-introduced the bill, excluding felony murder from its coverage. That's a step in the right direction, but it doesn't go far enough. Any new statute should be limited to misdemeanors, nonviolent felonies and property crimes. Also, those offenders who have lengthy criminal histories (whether misdemeanors or felonies) should not be included. Most experts in law enforcement and corrections would agree. This is one of the major reasons that the original federal law was repealed.
In September 1984, 3,196 people were arrested by the Metropolitan Police, according to statistics provided by the Central Crime Analysis Department. Of those, 2,974 were adults (anyone over the age of 18), and 222 (7 percent) were juveniles (under 18). But when you look at the number of those arrested who were in the 18-to- 22 age group, the figure is 809, or 26 percent of those arrested. Considering that only 10.8 percent of the District's population falls into the 18-to-22 age group, it is easy to see that they commit a disproportionate amount of crimes.
And they are not spending their time in petty pursuits. In June 1984, the Department of Corrections Youth Center had this composition of offenders: homicide 17; rape 6; robbery 164; assault 53; burglary 81; larceny 54; unauthorized use of a vehicle 25; weapons 29; drugs 93; fraud 5. Such statistics show that there is a violent group in this 18-to-22 age bracket -- some of the most hardened criminals in the city.
Those who support this legislation spak of "rehabilitation" as its main goal. It's painfully clear that they do not have a good grasp of the facts. The D.C. department of corrections' annual parole performance monitoring report for 1983 stated that while the parole success rate was actually improving for adult parolees, the rate for those committed under the Youth Corrections Act had declined. Only 31.6 percent of those completing their programs at Youth Center I successfully completed their paroles. And corrections officials report that the youths at the Lorton facilities show no interest in the academic, vocational and psychological programs designed for them and in most cases are too disruptive to benefit from such special treatment.
Legislators should take note. At a time when people are outraged by the criminal behavior of too many youths, when subway vigilantes are praised and when 17-year-olds can escape and go on more crime sprees, residents are not likely to sit back and let such legislation pass uncontested.
For the 10 years that I have represented Ward 2, I have been concerned with finding ways to reduce crime. I introduced a number of measures to cope with repeat offenders and street crime. But now the council should take a better look at this last proposal; it should not stand as currently drafted. The writer is a member of the D.C. Council from Ward 2.