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Not so in the District.

Youth advocates say a change in the law is needed to reduce the number of youths who can be tried as adults and to install judicial safeguards so that someone other than a prosecutor can make the charging decision.

“The Supreme Court has said that youth are in a fundamentally different class, but at the local level we don’t treat them that way,” said R. Daniel Okonkwo, executive director of D.C. Lawyers for Youth. “How often do prosecutors send juveniles [who by law can be tried as adults] back to juvenile court? If there is no discretion being exercised by prosecutors, at least let a judge decide.”

Mr. Okonkwo said the system in the District suffers not from complacency but from indifference. In 2009, the Juvenile Justice Improvement Act died from “lack of political will,” he said.

“Our politicians seem to think that this issue won’t resonate with people in D.C. There’s no movement on the D.C. Council to fall in line with other jurisdictions to make sure our young people can take advantage of what the juvenile system offers in terms of rehabilitation,” he said. “We know there’s no rehabilitation at the adult level.”