- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Youth advocates want D.C. officials to stop the push to allow authorities greater access to confidential juvenile criminal records.

The Justice 4 DC Youth! Coalition, a justice advocacy group made up of youths, parents and residents, said attempts by Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson and others to expand access to confidential criminal records of juveniles in the city are counterproductive to rehabilitation efforts.

“We can’t say to young people in this city that we support them and want to ensure their successful transition to adulthood and, on the other hand, undermine their ability to go to school and obtain employment by opening up confidential records,” said Liz Ryan, a member of the coalition’s steering committee.

D.C. police already have adequate access to juvenile records, under legislation approved by the D.C. Council in 2004 that gives police limited access to the records when necessary, Miss Ryan said.

“The jury is still out on whether it works,” Miss Ryan said. “There is evidence that [the Metropolitan Police Department] in the past has leaked confidential information to the newspapers that has put kids in jeopardy.”

The department’s call for more access also is wrong because it does so under the guise that juvenile crime is increasing in the District, she said.

Juvenile crime in the District decreased slightly last year for the first time since 2002, despite a 36 percent increase in robberies and carjackings.

The number of juveniles arrested in the District decreased from 2,952 in 2004 to 2,928 in 2005, a 0.81 percent decline, according to statistics compiled by D.C. police and the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

However, the number of juvenile robbery and carjacking arrests in the District increased from 153 in 2004 to 209 in 2005. Nearly one out of every three suspects arrested for robbery last year was a juvenile.

Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said he has agreed to meet with the coalition to discuss the matter.

“I can’t withdraw support of any legislation, because I haven’t drafted anything yet,” he said. “It appears to be a [pertinent] issue, but I can’t say for certain yet. But the chief has testified on more than one occasion” that it is.

Chief Ramsey has repeatedly criticized D.C. laws restricting access to information about the locations of convicted juveniles released to group homes or families. He calls the limited access “ridiculous” and said his officers need to know whether young offenders are living in D.C. neighborhoods.

“I disagree with those who think it’s not necessary to share that information,” he said. “It doesn’t make a great deal of sense to have dangerous people in our community and we don’t even know who they are until after they get involved in additional crime.”

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