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D.C. Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act

Building a Model Juvenile Justice System in the District of Columbia

The “Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016” makes sweeping reforms to the District of Columbia’s juvenile justice system.

This legislation was passed unanimously by the D.C. Council in fall 2016 and became D.C. law #21-0238 in April 2017.

It is fitting that this legislation was coming before the Council in October 2016, which President Obama has declared National Youth Justice Awareness month. Just as President Obama said in his proclamation:

Too often in America, young people are not afforded a second chance after having made a mistake or poor decision — the kind of chance some of their peers receive under more forgiving environments… As a society, we must strive to reach these children earlier in life and modernize our juvenile and criminal justice systems to hold youth accountable for their actions without consigning them to a life on the margins… Even for those youth who were never convicted or otherwise found guilty, simply having had contact with our justice system can lead to lifelong barriers and an increased likelihood of ending up in a cycle of incarceration.

President Barack Obama
September 30, 2016

DC Lawyers for Youth Executive Director Daniel Okonkwo praises Councilmember McDuffie’s Comprehensive Juvenile Justice Reform Bill.

This comprehensive legislation addresses many of the concerns that President Obama speaks of. Among other changes, this bill will keep children out of the adult criminal justice system, reduce over-incarceration and ensure age-appropriate sentencing and confinement.

Scroll down to learn more about the Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016 including:

What are the components of the Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016?

Prevents Children from Entering the Criminal Justice System

  • Ensures that juveniles are not detained unnecessarily before a court hearing
  • Permits the sealing of juvenile arrest records
  • Expands voluntary victim-offender mediation services as an alternative to prosecution

Reduces Overincarceration

  • Protects children under the age of 10 from being committed to the custody of the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services (“DYRS”) with older children
  • Prohibits the detention of “status offenders”, juveniles who commit minor offenses such as running away from home
  • Ends the commitment of status offenders at age 18

Provides Age-Appropriate Sentences for Children

  • Follows Supreme Court precedent by banning the use of juvenile life without parole sentences
  • Eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for juveniles and restores judicial discretion
  • Provides juveniles charged as adults with long sentences an opportunity for release after serving 20 years

Improves the Conditions of Confinement

  • Transfers all detained juveniles from adult facilities to DYRS
  • Bans the use of disciplinary segregation, also known as solitary confinement
  • Sets time limits on the use of room confinement and requires screenings by a health or mental health professional
  • Creates a parent manual to engage and educate parents of detained juveniles

Expands Oversight of Services

  • Allows data sharing between agencies to improve oversight of diversion programs
  • Collects data to evaluate the performance of DYRS
  • Requires an analysis of the root causes of juvenile crime

Want this information in one, printable page? Click here!

Read coverage of the Comprehensive Youth Justice reform bill in the news:

Who else supports the Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016?

Since a hearing on this bill in June 2016, where dozens of local and national organizations from the civil rights, juvenile justice, and faith communities testified in support of the legislation, Councilmember McDuffie has engaged with the Executive, the Office of the Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender Service, the Superior Court, community leaders, and other stakeholders from across the District to reach consensus on a balanced package of reforms. As a result of that effort, the Council received a renewed letter of support for the bill from 28 organizations and advocates, including:

  • D.C. Lawyers for Youth
  • Akiva Liberman, Senior Fellow, Urban Institute
  • American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital
  • Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth
  • Campaign for Youth Justice
  • Center for Children’s Law and Policy
  • Children’s Law Center
  • Council for Court Excellence
  • D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates
  • D.C. Law Students in Court
  • D.C. Prisoners’ Project
  • Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop
  • Kanita C. Williams, Esq.
  • Kristin Henning, Director, Juvenile Justice Clinic, Georgetown Law
  • Justice Policy Institute
  • Latin American Youth Center
  • Mark Hecker, Reach Incorporated
  • Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund
  • Mid-Atlantic Juvenile Defender Center
  • National Association of Social Workers, D.C. Metro Chapter
  • National Center for Victims of Crime
  • National Juvenile Justice Network
  • Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia
  • Rights for Girls
  • Sasha Bruce Youth Works
  • Tiane Doman
  • The Sentencing Project
  • Whitman-Walker Health

Click here to read the full legislation and all the accompanying documents relating to its passage at the District of Columbia Council.

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