The Oct. 27 editorial “75 cents” was a troubling call to erode protections in juvenile court that provide youth with a second chance to live productive lives. The killing of a cabdriver, allegedly by a ward of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), is a tragedy not to be minimized, but it is no excuse to allow juvenile records to be scrutinized by the media and public to the detriment of the District’s youth.
It may seem comforting to release records of youth charged with a violent crime, but it is a slippery slope to releasing records that limit the ability of any youth charged with any offense. And what of youth found not guilty? How quickly we forget about those whose names and futures are dragged through the mud in the court of public opinion but who are exonerated in a court of law.
More and better data are needed concerning the long-term impact of DYRS’s programs. We should ask how many youths go on to college; how many to jobs; how many avoid justice system involvement altogether? A true understanding of DYRS’s strengths and weaknesses is the best way to protect public safety and improve the lives of youth in the District.
Jason Fenster, Washington
The writer is a communications associate at the Justice Policy Institute.
●I share the concerns about the oversight and service provisions for delinquent youth in the District voiced in the editorial. I am concerned chiefly with a juvenile justice agency where half of the agency’s “juveniles” are 18 years of age and older. Why is the adult probation system not picking these “youth” up when they reach legal adult status? It seems to me that statutes related to youth offenses (such as the confidentiality laws cited in the editorial) should not be applicable to legal adults who commit crimes.
That said, I take issue with the statement in the editorial that the current confidentiality laws for youth in the juvenile justice system are “absurd.” Given the level of intrusion into our private lives in this era, I commend the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services’s refusal to broadcast information on their wards. I think most of us would want that level of privacy afforded to our friends and family members in the same circumstance.
Joyce Friedenberg, Takoma Park
●The editorial proposed the further erosion of juvenile confidentiality laws. While the emotions associated with the allegations in the killing of cabdriver Domingo Ezirike are justified, we must recognize that cases such as this represent only a sliver of a system that supervises about 1,000 youth daily.
There is never a good reason why someone would kill over something as trivial as 75 cents. That is why the presentation of individual failures as the norm, while ignoring the successes of youth supervised by the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, creates an unrealistic picture of the performance of the District’s juvenile justice agency.
The public would be better served by policymakers and the media focusing on the bigger picture — examining both successes and failures through analysis of system-wide data that preserves confidentiality — instead of merely calling for the disclosure of information about outlier cases. Good policy entails not further eroding confidentiality nor returning to the failed, heavy-handed policies of the past but using research, data and accountability to replicate DYRS’s successes and shore up its weaknesses.
Kristin Henning, Takoma Park
The writer is co-director of the Juvenile Justice Clinic at Georgetown Law School.