Why locking up youths is bad policy
By Elizabeth Alexander
The March 30 killings of four people in the District led to calls to “get tough on juvenile crime,” based on widely publicized charges against a 14-year-old. Now that it is clear that those charges were false, The Post should not continue to argue there are “legitimate concerns” [“A mistake undone,” editorial, April 24] about the extent to which the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services fails to keep youths charged with crimes locked up.
Data show that, in general, locking kids up leads to worse outcomes than alternatives to incarceration. Moreover, even the most dangerous youth held in secure facilities will not be there forever. Real behavioral change requires providing the resources to support confined youth when they return to the community.
While significant problems still exist, DYRS is developing a model program that tracks what research shows is by far the most effective ways to reduce criminal acts by youth. I hope that The Post will endorse rational solutions to the long-term challenges of the juvenile justice system and resist the temptation to join those who advocate making policy on the basis of anecdotes — particularly when the anecdotes are untrue.
The writer is a counsel for plaintiffs in Jerry M. vs. District of Columbia, a class-action lawsuit regarding the D.C. juvenile justice system.
| April 27, 2010; 6:45 PM ET
Categories: D.C., HotTopic, Local blog network, crime
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