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SIMMONS: ‘Failure’ of DYRS is a true fright

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2011

OPINION/ANALYSIS

How's this for some spooky non-Halloween news?

• The 20-year-old arrested Sunday in the fatal shooting of a Maryland taxicab driver was under the care and custody of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

• A teenager arrested in Maryland over the weekend and charged with armed carjacking also was a DYRS ward.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who is responsible for oversight of the agency, told The Washington Examiner the slaying of the taxi driver was "another failure of rehabilitation."

"It's obvious to the public that we are having young men and children involved in violent crimes when our rehabilitation program should be ensuring that doesn't happen," he said.

But the problem rests not in DYRS' rehabilitation program, but in the city's soft-hearted approach to crime and juvenile justice, which the council and the mayor insist on perpetuating.

The mission of DYRS is patently incongruous with preventing crime and maintaining law and order.

Indeed, on its website, DYRS states that its mission is "to improve public safety and give court-involved youths the opportunity to become more productive citizens by building on the strengths of youths and their families in the least restrictive, most homelike environment consistent with public safety."

The public-safety aspect simply isn't the priority, however, as the recent slayings underscore and as Mr. Graham himself pointed out.

Moreover, a 2010 series of articles in The Washington Times examined a year's worth of data and found that 1 in 5 killings in the District involved a youth in the custody of the city, as either a victim or a suspect.

It is clear, or should be by now, that DYRS is trying to fulfill a pipe dream, but delivering nightmarish consequences with hardened teens and young adults who play God and take another's life quicker than you can say, "Thou shall not kill."

Mr. Graham says he wants to call DYRS on the carpet and that he is pulling together legislation to tighten oversight and accountability. In Graham-speak, that means either change contractors who oversee DYRS programs for troubled youths and/or lighten the caseloads of DYRS workers.

If Mr. Graham and his colleagues on the council's Human Services Committee - Yvette M. Alexander, Marion Barry and Michael A. Brown, who are up for re-election, and Tommy Wells, former chairman of the panel - are truly serious about public safety, they will insist on achieving the latter by taking a heavier-handed approach.

Perhaps the best thing they could do along those lines is request that DYRS be placed in the hands of the council committee that oversees criminal justice and public safety.

At the very least, such a legislative strategy would force D.C. officials, contractors and DYRS employees to view teen and young-adult offenders through the lens of the District's Youth Rehabilitation Act, which, enacted in 1985 and toyed with in recent years, simply mandates that adult criminals be separated from younger offenders.

Laws and policies that punish older criminals but treat 19- and 20-year-olds with tough love isn't justice.

It's an unjust way of tricking the public into thinking that teen thugs and young killers can be rehabilitated if treated with kid gloves.

Now that's scary.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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