SIMMONS: When more than a slap on the wrist is needed

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Sparing the rod does more than spoil the child.

It puts children and the public at large at risk, too.

Case in point: An 18-year-old who was being monitored and serviced by two D.C. agencies outsmarted authorities by intentionally draining the battery on his tracking bracelet. In and out of the juvenile justice system since age 14, Kevon M. Austin now faces charges in the fatal shooting of a man near Gallaudet University in Northeast on Oct. 10.

The killing occurred a day after Mr. Austin received the electronic monitoring device, my colleague Andrea Noble reported Tuesday.

Because Mr. Austin was only a child when he began tangoing with the justice system, his current entanglement easily can be a perfect example of the ongoing debate about whether juvenile justice policies should lean toward tough punitive programs or lenient rehabilitative services.

For its part, the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services recently tweeted that “No DYRS youth charged w/homicide in 2012 so far.” Until Mr. Austin, that is.

DYRS‘ backslapping tweet followed extensive reporting by The Washington Times in 2010 and 2011 that showed 1 in 5 homicides in the city involved a DYRS ward who became either a victim or a suspect.

Couple that investigation with a probe by WJLA-TV (Channel 7), which reported in August that dozens of youths enrolled in an organization called D.C. YouthLink had been killed or arrested for killing other people.

And here’s the kicker, folks: Ms. Noble’s story cited Mr. Austin’s take on the D.C. juvenile justice system.

“I ain’t doing nothing for this, then I’m a be right back out here,” he said.

No explanation needed, right?

D.C. Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat and a member of the committee that oversees the Department of Human Services and youth-rehabilitative programs, said he was “outraged” by the results of the Channel 7 probe.

Well, hey, so are the taxpayers who are funding such groups but getting revolving doors and more bloodshed in return.

By the way: Is it put up or shut up time for Mr. Barry?

Up for re-election in November and facing a small measure of competition from an independent opponent, Mr. Barry wants to plug the financial hole and end funding for groups that do not succeed in rehabilitating youths and guiding them along the straight and narrow.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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