Group Challenges D.C. to Reduce Juvenile Transfers to Adult Court, Jails

A national organization called this week for Washington, D.C. to drastically curb the number of juvenile offenders who are tried as adults, jailed before trial and incarcerated in adult prisons.

“D.C. continues this practice of prosecuting, detaining, and incarcerating youth in the adult system despite the fact that research consistently finds that adult prosecution of youth does not effectively deter crime,” said the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), a D.C.-based organization, in a policy report issued this week with DC Lawyers for Youth.

The city jailed 541 juveniles at Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF) between 2007 and 2012, according to numbers obtained for the report through a Freedom of Information Act Request. CTF is a 1,500-bed facility that mostly houses adults, and struggles to provide appropriate services for youths.

Every single one of them was a minority (97 percent were black), and 98 percent were males.

The majority of those juveniles were there for short stays, although 43 percent of them stayed for at least six months.

The groups called specifically for three reforms:

Permit defense lawyers to file “reverse transfer” motions, enabling a judge to move a case back into juvenile court.

Nearby, Maryland permits reverse transfers, and a recent study found that about a third of juveniles transferred to adult courts were transferred back to the juvenile system.

A review of 94 juveniles held at CTF between April of 2012 and March of 2013 found that nearly one-third were released to the community before or after a conviction. It is possible that many would have received longer, or more substantive, sentences in the juvenile system.

Place juveniles who are tried as adults in juvenile detention centers before their trial.

Nearly 60 percent of the 10,016 days that D.C. youths spent at CTF were pre-trial, according to the report. Many of the other 40 percent remain in jail after conviction because the federal Bureau of Prisons will not house juveniles in adult prisons.

End the city’s policy of considering juveniles to be adults in perpetuity after an initial prosecution in adult court.

It is not clear how many of the youths tried or jailed as adults in the city are there only because of a previous transfer.

D.C. code allows the United States attorneys to send juvenile cases into adult court when the top charge is murder; first degree sexual abuse or burglary; armed robbery; and assault with intent to commit any of those crimes.

Youths may also be held in juvenile facilities if they are charged with one of those crimes, and then plea or are convicted of lesser offenses.

City prosecutors can file for the transfer of juveniles for lesser offenses, but that did not happen once in the period between 2007 to 2012, according to the report.

A 2008 poll of registered DC voters found that 77 percent believe youth awaiting trial should be held in a juvenile facility rather than an adult jail, and 71 percent believe placing youth in adult facilities is minimally or not at all effective at rehabilitating youth.

John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.

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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.