Legislation called cutting edge by national experts on juvenile justice reform has been unanimously passed by the Council of the District of Columbia, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. “We looked at best practices from across the country and really pulled together what we think is going to transform our juvenile justice system,” said council member Kenyan McDuffie, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “More importantly, it’s going to modernize the juvenile justice system to hold young people accountable for their actions, but it’s also going to give them an opportunity for rehabilitation.”
The bill bars detaining juveniles for status offenses (such as running away or underage drinking), putting juveniles in adult facilities, and putting unsupervised children into detention facilities before hearings. Minors will no longer be placed in solitary confinement unless it’s to protect their safety or that of others, or for disrupting a formal investigation. The bill would also give juveniles charged as adults the opportunity for release after 20 years and limits the restraints allowed for young women who are pregnant. “I think it is a fantastic codification of the science around adolescent brain development,” said Daniel Okonkwo, of DC Lawyers for Youth. “It recognizes that children are children and have this incredible capacity to change, and that it recognizes that we can do some things for young people who are already in the system that set them up to succeed when they transition out of it.” The legislation is part of a national trend in state systems, said Sarah Bryer of the National Juvenile Justice Network. In the past year, several states, including California, Louisiana, and Delaware have taken up juvenile justice reform legislation. The District’s is one of the widest-reaching of any single bill.