The recent Washington Post series on repeat violent offenders in the District is an important one, and I hope everyone has been reading it. In many of the cases cited, I've worked with the residents and victims involved in the aftermath of these crimes. The stories and events they've reported on are horrendous and infuriating. The pain that these victims have suffered is unimaginable.
Over the past year, I've spent a great deal of time working on public safety issues, but clearly our work isn't done. I know there are a variety of perspectives on the Youth Rehabilitation Act (YRA), the law discussed in the Post series. I believe we shouldn’t be afraid to re-examine our laws to understand what’s working, what isn't, and what needs to change.
I was struck by the Post's findings that the Courts, the US Attorney's Office, and other parts of our judicial system are not tracking the use and effectiveness of the YRA. While I'm not a member of the Council Judiciary Committee, I have a strong interest in this law and will be meeting soon with a working group of juvenile justice experts to consider changes to the YRA in light of the Post's findings.
While the articles don't discuss this, I frequently hear that there are elements of the YRA that do work and do lead to better outcomes when applied for non-violent crimes - and I want to be careful not to undermine those gains. But the reporting highlights some serious concerns that should be reviewed, and I don't think that should be limited to only the underlying law. We must consider the role of the Courts, prosecutors, youth rehabilitative services, and more. Nowhere else in the country do we have a local criminal justice system that is largely unaccountable to local elected officials and residents. The District's court system presents some significant challenges, but I’m not going to shy away from reviewing the effectiveness of our laws if they aren't working as intended.
I welcome your feedback and suggestions, and look forward to working together toward solutions.