Washington, D.C. – Today, the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary voted unanimously to send the “Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016” to the full Council for the first of two votes. Introduced in April by Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie, Chairperson of the Committee, and six of his colleagues, the bill makes landmark reforms to the District of Columbia’s juvenile justice system. “This innovative legislation will help keep our children out of the justice system, reduce overincarceration, ensure age-appropriate sentencing, improve conditions of confinement, and expand oversight. Giving young people a meaningful opportunity for rehabilitation not only improves their lives, it improves public safety as well,” stated McDuffie.
Since the hearing in June, 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 yesterday 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
“Juvenile justice reform is one of the rare issues that brings together people from across the political spectrum and all levels of government”, said McDuffie. The ‘Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act’ shares many provisions in common with the ‘Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act’, which overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives on September 22, and the bill also tracks President Obama’s recent executive action on restricting solitary confinement for juveniles. “What better way to celebrate National Youth Justice Awareness Month then to ensure that our nation’s capital continues to be a national leader in juvenile justice”, stated McDuffie.
The bill would expand voluntary victim-offender mediation; restore judicial discretion when sentencing juveniles; follow Supreme Court precedent by eliminating juvenile life without parole sentences; protect children under 10 from being held at juvenile facilities with teenagers; prohibit the detention of status offenders; move all detained children out of adult facilities; limit the use of solitary confinement on children; better engage the families of detained children; improve the oversight and evaluation of diversion and rehabilitation programs; and require an analysis of the underlying causes of juvenile delinquency.
With today’s Committee vote, the bill will move to the full Council for a first vote later in the month.