Police who responded to a disturbance Sunday at Washington, D.C.’s juvenile detention center made what should have been a routine request: to view surveillance videos to determine responsibility for the assault of a staff member and other possible crimes. Instead, they ended up in court because the city’s confidentiality laws for juvenile offenders precluded release — even to the police — of this material. How much more absurd does the situation have to get before the D.C. Council does something about rules that show more regard for those who break the law than those who need its protection, asks the Washington Post in an editorial.
A worker at the center had his jaw broken and three other staff members were injuired in the hour-long melee. It appears the incident started when a group of youths objected to the end of a basketball game and refused to return to their housing units. The police investigation was momentarily stymied when the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services cited a confidentiality statute in refusing to make information available. There are good reasons for protecting the privacy of youths who commit crimes; mainly, so they can have the chance of rebuilding their lives without the lifelong stigma of their youthful offenses. But Washington’s laws are overly broad and unusually strict, making it a crime for anyone to release any information about a juvenile case. Attorney General Peter Nickles, who is reviewing the juvenile justice system, said he’s increasingly convinced that strict confidentiality laws harm public safety by shrouding the system in such secrecy that public confidence is undermined.