- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A D.C. Council committee approved legislation Tuesday to increase the monitoring of troubled youths, fast-tracking the measure on the same day that five young men went on trial for a mass shooting in Southeast that prompted the bill.

The Committee of the Whole’s stamp of approval on the South Capitol Street Memorial Amendment Act is a strong indication that the bill — intended to flag mental-health problems and prevent school truancy among D.C. youth — will pass when it comes up for a vote in a formal council session.

Council member David Catania, at-large independent and chairman of the Committee on Health, introduced the bill after discussions with Nardyne Jefferies, the mother of 16-year-old Brishell Jones, who was among four young people killed in the March 30, 2010, shootings.

“In the days following the shooting, Ms. Jefferies and I made a commitment to one another,” Mr. Catania said. “It is a commitment that has endured for nearly two years.”

Brishell was with a group of people on a Southeast lawn when passers-by opened fire on the gathering in the culmination of a series of violent acts of retribution.

“What started as an argument over a missing bracelet resulted in one of the deadliest mass shootings in our history,” Mr. Catania said.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown and Mayor Vincent C. Gray, both Democrats, supported the legislation.

Specifically, the bill will study behavioral health services to youth; require a plan to expand mental-health services in schools by the 2016-2017 academic year; focus on the root causes of truancy and take action after five unexcused absences from school; and train parents and school officials to recognize behavioral health problems.

It also requires two city entities — the Child and Family Services Agency and the city’s juvenile justice agency, the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services — to screen youths for behavioral health issues within 30 days of their contact with either agency.

The 21-year-old who allegedly kicked off the series of retaliatory attacks that culminated in the South Capitol Street shooting, Sanquan Carter, and one of victims, 18-year-old Davaughn Boyd, were DYRS wards.

City officials said they are still refining the bill to calculate its long-term costs. Funding would depend on what the mayor’s office and council are willing to provide during budget talks.

They also said the program, if approved, would be rolled out gradually.

“In the past, the remedy has been politicians showing up at memorial services and leaving the scene and leaving the children to their own devices,” Mr. Catania said. “This measure seeks a top-to-bottom evaluation and will hold all of us accountable for creating a healthier environment for our young people.”