This week’s offering once again delves into the appalling number of repeat violent offenders on the streets of our nation’s capital. But a warning: Expect to veer into the bureaucratic weeds. Unfortunately, there’s no way around them.
Last week’s column was devoted to the recent Post series that uncovered cases of 750 offenders sentenced under the city’s Youth Rehabilitation Act multiple times in the past decade, including 121 who were later charged with murder, more than 200 sentenced for multiple violent or weapons offenses, and more than 130 convicted of armed robbery.
To understand how this dangerous situation developed, we need to know more about the city’s criminal justice system, and how such a long-standing public-safety threat could go unaddressed.
Please note, an offender’s pathway to crime does not start with an arrest, conviction and prison sentence. This is mentioned because whenever I write about public-safety issues in the District, invariably some readers charge me with ignoring what they regard as the source of crime: offenders spawned by broken homes and chaotic communities.
At issue today, however, are hundreds of criminals sentenced by D.C. judges under the Youth Rehabilitation Act, crafted by city leaders to give second chances to young adult offenders who have often gone on to rob, rape or kill in the nation’s capital.
Why is this being allowed to happen?
Three key actors in the city’s criminal justice system — Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine and D.C. Council Judiciary Committee Chairman Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) — were interviewed about this cycle of violence, including why and how young criminals are re-offending on such an apparently large scale.
As noted last week, each official pointed in the same direction for solutions: the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
That’s where I turned this week.
Congress created the CJCC in 2002, based on a study of the city’s criminal justice system by the federal Government Accountability Office. The GAO found problems. The D.C. Council, accepting the need for reform, passed legislation in 2001, which Congress subsequently approved.
The CJCC’s membership includes Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), Donahue, Racine and McDuffie, along with the U.S. attorney, Superior Court chief judge and assorted federally funded parole, police, corrections and public defender officials.
The CJCC’s mission is to identify pressing criminal justice issues that cut across agency lines, to propose actions and solutions, and to foster interagency cooperation to improve public safety in the District.
Keep that objective in mind.
Since 2003, the CJCC has received $21 million from U.S. taxpayers — “U.S.” because all of that money comes from the federal treasury.
It’s also not a mom-and-pop shop.
Mannone A. Butler, the CJCC’s executive director since 2011, told me that her agency is composed of “18 talented” information technology professionals, researchers, policy analysts, and executive and administrative employees.
Asked for her reaction to The Post’s Dec. 3 and 4 articles about offenders returning rapidly to the streets and committing more crimes, Butler said in an interview Dec. 13 — nine days after the last article appeared — that she had not read the pieces thoroughly and couldn’t comment.
Asked whether the CJCC had ever studied the Youth Rehabilitation Act — the way the law has been carried out by prosecutors and judges, as well as the effectiveness of the law itself — Butler told me: “The Youth Act has never been discussed before the CJCC.”
How can that be?
Experts told The Post that the Youth Rehabilitation Act provides benefits to violent offenders that don’t exist anywhere else in the country.
Bowser, who chairs the CJCC, said that she thinks judges, prosecutors and public defenders have come to “misapply” the law at the expense of public safety.
Mendelson told The Post that he faults prosecutors as too willing to offer generous deals to violent criminals.
This major public-safety threat has received the silent treatment.
So what good is the CJCC? Why are congressional paymasters pouring taxpayers’ earnings into the agency’s coffers? Following my inquiries, Butler provided a list of CJCC public-safety initiatives, none of which, by the way, addressed the D.C. law that allows criminals to repay leniency by escalating their violent crimes upon release.
Most importantly, what are residents and visitors to the nation’s capital to do while D.C. criminal justice officials dither?
CJCC officials may not have studied or evaluated the Youth Rehabilitation Act — but Tavon Pinkney has.
Pinkney was 18 when arrested in 2014 for his first adult robbery offense. By the time he was caught, he had committed at least a dozen robberies, he told The Post in a prison interview.
He pleaded guilty to attempted robbery, received a suspended sentence and was given probation under the Youth Rehabilitation Act.
Five months into his probation, Pinkney shot and killed a man during a drug deal, and is now serving a 17-year sentence.
Of the law, Pinkney said: “I went back to doing the same thing. Nothing changed. . . . They just gave me the Youth Act and let me go right back out there. They ain’t really care.”
That’s one evaluation.
Read more from Colbert King’s archive.