D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday a settlement in a decades-old lawsuit that would end the D.C. Superior Court’s oversight of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS).
The District’s juvenile justice system has long faced scrutiny and criticism over a host of issues ranging from overcrowding youths in detention centers and unsafe facilities to losing track of detainees wearing GPS monitoring devices and illegally divulging juvenile criminal records.
Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr., who has presided over the case for the last 20 years, will review the settlement for approval in a Superior Court hearing at 10:30 a.m. Feb 12.
“The settlement agreement is a tremendous victory for our local autonomy and demonstrates the progress we have made to improve and strengthen the District’s juvenile justice system,” Miss Bowser said in a press release. “I am confident that DYRS, under the leadership of Director [Clinton] Lacey, will continue to lead the way in engaging vulnerable District youth with evidence-based practices.”
The 35-year-old class-action lawsuit Jerry M. v District of Columbia alleged that confinement conditions in D.C. juvenile detention facilities were unconstitutional, specifically at the Oak Hill Juvenile Detention Center in Laurel, Maryland.
D.C. Council member Charles Allen, chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, hailed the settlement announcement.
“This is an incredible milestone for everyone involved, and it represents decades of hard work by the agency, counsel, advocates and the court to improve our juvenile justice system,” said Mr. Allen, Ward 6 Democrat. “DYRS is now a national juvenile justice leader, and this translates to dramatically improved services for young people outside and inside the system. It also means a safer, more equitable D.C.”
In the years since the lawsuit was filed, D.C. officials have closed Oak Hill and opened the New Beginnings Youth Facility, elevated DYRS to a Cabinet-level position and made reforms to improve the juvenile justice system, Miss Bowser noted in her release.
As a part of the agreement, the mayor has agreed to establish an Office of Independent Juvenile Justice Facilities Oversight to monitor the DYRS secure juvenile facilities to ensure the District maintains the progress it has made throughout the lawsuit.
Court documents say Miss Bowser has appointed Mark Jordan to be the first executive director of the Office of Independent Juvenile Justice Facilities Oversight.
The settlement also requires that Special Arbiter Grace Lopes, who was appointed by the court to oversee DYRS, continue to conduct reviews of the department through April 30 and file “brief reports on the remaining goals under the court’s supervision, including goals related to critical incidents and assaults, behavioral health services, fire safety, and health services,” according to a spokeswoman for the mayor.
According to court documents, the settlement “follows a framework” suggested by Ms. Lopes, who endorsed this agreement. Ms. Lopes declined to comment Wednesday.
“This settlement demonstrates how far the District has come in serving court-involved youth. Led by our vision, hope, resilience and empowerment of youth and families, and grounded in the core principles of restorative justice, DYRS will continue [to] provide the highest quality of services to the youth in our care,” Mr. Lacey said in the release.
The D.C. Code of Judicial Conduct precludes comment from the Superior Court, a court spokesperson said.
In 2015, Judge Dixon approved a partial settlement that greatly reduced the court’s oversight due to the District’s progress in reforming DYRS. Following that partial settlement, Ms. Lopes no longer reviewed environmental health and safety, outdoor recreation, individualized education at the DYRS Youth Services Center, the use of restraints and disciplinary actions in the juvenile justice system.