Critics Seek Court Takeover Of D.C. Juvenile Unit


Public defenders in Washington, D.C., and and American Civil Liberties Union want a judge to take over the capital’s juvenile justice agency. They argue that “17 years of empty promises and repeated findings of contempt” have failed to improve conditions for children under the agency’s care, the Washington Post says.

The attorneys contend that extraordinary measures are needed because “there is no realistic hope that conditions will improve” unless a receiver controls the agency’s budget and personnel and implements a reform plan over the next 12 months. “The prospect of any meaningful change is more remote than ever,” attorneys for the groups said, adding that “the problems facing YSA are more dire than they ever have been.”

Under Mayor Anthony Williams, the city has gained control of a handful of agencies, among them the public housing, mental health, and child welfare systems, that had been turned over to court-appointed receivers.

The groups represent juveniles under the city’s custody in a lawsuit filed in 1985. Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr., who oversees the case, held the city in contempt in June for violating several parts of the 1986 agreement that governs Oak Hill Youth Center, the juvenile detention compound. The motion recited a list of failings at Oak Hill, including chronic staff shortages, violence and a lack of mental health and drug treatment counseling for juveniles.

Yesterday’s request argues that poorly run group homes have contributed to “a high rate of recidivism” among children who were allowed back into the community without proper supervision. It criticized the mayor’s decision last week to name a city lawyer, Marceline D. Alexander, to head Youth Services–the third person to lead it since a former chief quit under pressure in July. “Her interim appointment is the kind of management reshuffling with which the District has unsuccessfully met many of its social services crises,” the attorneys wrote.


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