Critics Vow to Overhaul D.C. Youth Rehabilitation Law

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A proposal to overhaul Washington, D.C.’s troubled Youth Rehabilitation Act would limit the number of young offenders eligible for more lenient sentences and require judges to justify in writing why they are giving convicts benefits under the law, the Washington Post reports. A City Council bill would require the city to offer new treatment and services to young-adult offenders, a change that is being applauded by juvenile-justice advocates. The law now allows individuals under the age of 22 to receive shorter sentences and to have their crimes removed from the public record. Although it is called the Youth Rehabilitation Act, a study by the city’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council found that there are no programs specifically tailored to rehabilitating youth who are sentenced under the law. “For years, we’ve called it the Youth Act and left out the R,” said D.C. Council member Charles Allen, who wrote the legislation to overhaul the act. “It’s like the rehabilitation part was just forgotten.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and the council pledged to reform the law after the Post reported that hundreds of young-adult offenders who had been provided leniency under the law later went on to rob, rape or murder. The bill would require the mayor to submit a strategic plan by Jan. 1, 2019, “to provide comprehensive treatment and services to youth offenders and youth and young adults at risk of becoming youth offenders.” Seema Gajwani, special counsel to Racine, said the new legislation “honors the compassion of the original law, while protecting public safety.”

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