D.C. Program for Troubled Teens: Substandard Services, Much Recidivism


In 2010, Washington, D.C., started what many people called a revolutionary new program for troubled teens, says WJLA-TV. It tries to reform some of the most violent and dangerous kids that live in the community. Dubbed DC YouthLink, officials consider it critical to public safety. The program grew out of a wave in juvenile justice reform. Based solidly in research, it incarcerates youths only as a last resort – if they are deemed a threat to others or themselves. This model instead relies largely on therapies like mentoring and tutoring. Just 15 percent of participants in Milwaukee reoffend.

In D.C., it has fallen victim to mismanagement and abuse. A WJLA investigation uncovered millions of dollars paid to providers that have delivered substandard services, or not adequately documented work. The funds were awarded through an entirely noncompetitive process, with decisions made unilaterally, without contracts. One-third of the program's participants were rearrested while still enrolled, over just half of last year. From 2010 to 2011, 15 were charged with murder and 15 more were killed. Of the more than 750 youths served by the program, the city can point to 13 who have graduated from high school.

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