While nothing can negate the tragedy that reportedly befell Marcel Merritt ["Slain Youth Left Trail of Homicides, D.C. Police Believe; Suspect Had Long Eluded Juvenile Justice Officials," front page, Oct. 23], his case serves to elevate the need to reform the District's juvenile justice system so that such a thing does not happen again.

After being in disrepair for two decades, the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (formerly the Youth Services Administration) came under new leadership in January. Since then, youth arrests for burglary, larceny-theft and unauthorized use of a vehicle have declined when compared with figures for the same period last year.

Since January the department also has started or issued requests to fund three new programs to provide more supervision and accountability for youths who are involved with the courts. These include intensive monitoring programs, extended-family homes -- where one or two youths can reside if they cannot safely be released to their families -- and evening reporting centers that provide after-care services and six hours of adult supervision every day.

These programs are part of a continuum of care that the District needs to provide supervision, accountability and services to youth and to promote the public safety.

If the concern surrounding Marcel Merritt's death were to disrupt the juvenile justice reforms underway, it would only serve to compound this heartbreaking story by not offering hope of a better system in the future.



The writer is a law professor and director of the Juvenile and Special Education Law Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia.