Good morning Chairwoman Alexander, and members of the Committee on Health and Human Services. My name is Eduardo Ferrer and I am the Legal & Policy Director of DC Lawyers for Youth. DCLY is an organization whose mission is to advocate for continued positive youth justice reform in the District, which we define as making the District’s juvenile justice system the smallest and the best system. The smallest juvenile justice system is one that serves only those youth that are a threat to public safety and who require rehabilitation and support services through the justice system itself. The best juvenile justice system is one that addresses young people’s individual needs and releases that young people from its care ready to achieve positive life outcomes.
I am here today to ask that this Committee support an increase in funding for the Alternatives to Court Experience (ACE) Program – DC’s only formal juvenile justice system diversion program. In lieu of prosecution, the ACE Program provides youth who could otherwise be charged with a status offense or a crime with an individual service plan tailored to their specific situation and needs. This service plan typically includes some combination of case management, intensive evidence-based behavioral health services, civic engagement services, community service opportunities, and mediation services. On average, ACE receives approximately 50 diversion referrals a month, meaning that over the course of a year, ACE helps prevent nearly 600 youth – 60% of whom are from Wards 7 and 8 – from being prosecuted in the formal juvenile justice system.
The ACE program plays a relatively new, but critically important, role in narrowing the pipeline to prison that exists for too many District youth. Unfortunately, for many years now, the District’s juvenile justice system has served as a de facto safety net for poor youth in the District of Columbia. When the school system, the child welfare system, and/or the behavioral health system fail, the youth often falls or is pushed into the juvenile justice system. Indeed, I have often been told by parents that they tried and tried to get meaningful services and supports for their youth and family prior to any justice system-involvement only to be turned away or told that they could not access services until their son or daughter became court-involved. But most youth arrested in the District do not need formal system involvement; they need meaningful opportunities and effective support. Moreover, the “risk principle” teaches us that it is actually counter-productive to public safety to pursue more intensive correctional interventions with low-risk youth. As a result, the ACE program fills a much-needed gap in the District – it provides case management and high quality, evidence-based services to youth in a manner that specifically helps youth avoid the juvenile justice system.
While still a relatively young program, the ACE program has had very promising outcomes thus far. In FY2015, 74% almost always participated in the service(s); 51% showed improved school attendance; 84% had improved CAFAS scores; and 88% had no further legal involvement while in the program. Additionally, through the first quarter of FY2016, 89% almost always participated in the service(s); 62% showed improved school attendance; 88% had improved CAFAS scores; and 91% had no further legal involvement while in the program. Altogether, 92% of youth who completed the ACE program have not been rearrested for a juvenile or adult crime in the District.
Not only does the ACE Program make the District safer, but also provides a good return on investment for the District. The average cost for a youth to participate in the ACE program for six months is approximately $3900 local dollars (excluding federal Medicaid contribution). In contrast, it costs over $4200 a week just to detain a youth at the Youth Services Center. Thus, not only is the ACE program more effective at providing youth with the supports that they need and that keep our community safe, but it is a better return on investment for taxpayers as well.
For these reasons, I ask that you provide the ACE program with an additional $775,000 in fiscal year 2017. These additional monies should enable the ACE program to maintain staffing levels consistent with best practices and to develop the capacity necessary to serve even more youth a year without a decline in positive outcomes.
Importantly, while it appears that the ACE program is getting additional money in the FY2017 budget, it is our understanding that this is not the case. The current proposed appropriation for the ACE program for FY2017 is consistent with the FY2016 levels. The difference is that, in FY2016, $725,000 in funds was provided through the Justice Grants Administration (JGA) and through the DC Trust, while in FY2017, the monies are appropriated directly to the ACE program. Thus, without the appropriations I am requesting here today, the ACE program will not have the resources necessary to maintain best practices as well as grow.
Thank you for your time. I am available to answer questions the Committee may have.
 In 2014, 77% of youth arrests were for non-violent, non-weapons offenses. See DC Lawyers for Youth, Youth Arrest and Court Involvement Trends in the District of Columbia (1998-2014) (Sept. 2015), available at http://www.dcly.org/youth_arrest_and_court_involvement_trends.
 Lowenkamp, et. al., Understanding the Risk Principle: How and Why Correctional Institutions Can Harm Low-Risk Offenders, available at http://www.ncsc.org/~/media/Microsites/Files/PJCC/H%20RiskPrinciple.ashx.