What do 125 victims of assault with a dangerous weapon, 43 victims of aggravated assault, 140 assaulted D.C. police officers, 388 burglary and robbery victims and 26 victims of sex offenses have in common? All of the offenses against them occurred in the District last year and were committed by youths under 18 at the time of their arrest.
Criminal behavior by D.C. juveniles is an acute problem. It shows up in arrest statistics in the D.C. police department’s 2014 annual report.
The data are stark: D.C. youths are causing serious bodily harm to others, breaking into and entering other folks’ property, forcibly taking what doesn’t belong to them, assaulting or threatening to assault others, forcing individuals to engage in sexual acts. It’s all there for city leaders to see, if they care to look.
All eyes, instead, appear focused on the needs of “returning citizens” — inmates coming home from prison. They are at the back end of the criminal justice system. What about the front end, where youths continue to enter?
Last year, there were 604 juveniles arrested on warrant charges; that was up from 483 in 2013.
Consider juvenile arrests last year for weapons crimes such as unlawful possession of firearms or prohibited weapons such as daggers and razors: 136 youths were arrested last year. That’s also up from 2013, when 123 got busted for weapons crimes.
Juvenile offenders didn’t retire this year.
Last week, police arrested three juvenile males for what the police labeled a “robbery force and violence” offense that occurred on Sept. 24 on L Street NW.
D.C. police also reported last week that they had arrested another juvenile male for a robbery on W Street SE on Sept. 18.
It’s been like that all year.
A July sample:
● A woman riding on the Metropolitan Bike Trail in Northeast robbed of her bike at 11:20 in the morning; two juvenile males arrested and charged with “robbery force and violence.”
● A robbery with a gun in Southeast; three adult males and one juvenile arrested.
● Four juveniles arrested for a robbery at 13th and P streets NW at 5:30 in the afternoon.
The picture, however, becomes even more dire — and more demanding of city attention — when you review arrest records for juveniles committed to the custody of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services who have absconded from a community-based placement. These aren’t young people who are physically restrained or locked up. They have been placed in the community and, as absconders, willfully left DYRS placement facilities, run incidentally not by DYRS employees but by city-paid contractors.
According to the police department, from July 1 to Dec. 31, 2014, more than 190 youths were arrested for absconding from custody.
Some, as the media have reported, committed other crimes while under DYRS community supervision. The abscondence arrests go the heart of the city’s rehabilitation program for young offenders.
The city needs to know why the youths were unwilling to stay in contractor-run facilities. What steps could have been taken to prevent them from leaving? Were the youths high-risk candidates for escaping custody? Should they have been in community-based, contractor-operated facilities in the first place?
And just who is responsible for overall management of both the young offenders and the contractors who receive millions in tax dollars to house and provide services to DYRS youths released from secure detention? The department’s relationship with contractors deserves close examination.
It should be noted that the D.C. Office of the Inspector General issued a special evaluation in December 2013 on DYRS’s handling of absconders. The inspector general found that DYRS failed to monitor youths in the community adequately and that it failed to provide clear standards for the contractors with regard to reporting absconders.
New DYRS Director Clinton Lacey is trying to get on top of the situation, as is D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson, who is conducting an audit of DYRS. The auditor’s investigation will look into contracts and grants in place for 2014 and 2015, including their amounts and purpose and how they were awarded and monitored.
This is more than another bureaucratic exercise.
Go back to those arrests cited at the beginning of this column. Think about the youths in DYRS custody who have run away.
Ask if the mayor and council, hellbent on greening the city and making cars go away, care enough to focus on the well-being of troubled young people and the safety of our neighborhoods. Ask away.
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