Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, Budget Oversight Hearing on the Department of Corrections

Testimony of R. Daniel Okonkwo, Executive Director

Good morning Chairman Wells. My name is Daniel Okonkwo and I am the Executive Director of DC Lawyers for Youth. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before your Committee this morning.  I am here today to comment on the budget for the Department of Corrections and make a suggestion related to the FY13 allocation of funding for an assessment of the programming available to those youth who are charged as adults and held at the Central Treatment Facility (CTF).

I know that the DOC has limited jurisdiction over young people once they are no longer held in the District. However, the most effective reentry planning begins upon entry into custody. It is for that reason, that I am concerned with the treatment, the educational, and the vocational programming available to youth at CTF. With the Title 16 youth, the DOC and the District have an opportunity to provide programming, education, and rehabilitative treatment to a group of young people which will pay off when they return to our city.

At the DOC performance oversight hearing in February I included with my testimony a number of recommendations for this committee. In particular, I asked that the DOC complete the RFP process and select a contractor to provide an independent assessment of the conditions, treatment, and programming and services available to youth housed at the D.C. Jail. In the FY 2013 budget this committee provided funding for this assessment and I am pleased that DOC has completed the RFP process and selected a contractor. I am not familiar with the organization selected by the Department; however, I hope that in their assessment process, they engage DYRS and others who can speak to the utilization of positive youth development principles in dealing with youth who are incarcerated.  Additionally, it is my hope that the contractor selected by DOC to conduct this assessment utilizes advocates and service providers who work with youth in the D.C. Jail as resources during their assessment.

Second, I would ask this committee to include funding in this year’s budget for the implementation of any recommended programming or other recommended actions that come out of this assessment. Including funding to act on the recommendations of this assessment will mean that we will not have to wait until after Fall 2014 to act on any recommendations this assessment may make and will ensure that the young people who are being held at the D.C. Jail receive the most beneficial and appropriate programming sooner.

Since his confirmation, I have had a few opportunities to meet with Director Faust and members of his staff. I am pleased that he has show a willingness to keep an open line of communication with the advocate community and I believe that he is committed to improving the conditions of confinement for the young people at the D.C. Jail and to getting his staff the training they need to care for young people in their custody.  I want to publicly thank him for that.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my recommendations. DCLY looks forward to continuing to work with you and members of this committee to continue to improve the treatment of young people who are unfortunately being dealt with in the adult criminal justice system. If you have any questions regarding my testimony, I would be happy to answer them. 

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