Testimony of R. Daniel Okonkwo, Executive Director
Good afternoon 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 today. I am here today to comment on the budget for the Department of Corrections (DOC) for FY 2015 and to comment on the funding in the DOC budget allocated to the Title 16 Unit at CTF.
At the DOC performance oversight hearing, DCLY raised concerns about solitary confinement of young people, the available programming for youth at CTF, and the visitation policy for this population. We still harbor those concerns. However, today I am here to ask this committee to make some additional inquiries into the funding available for Title 16 Youth in the DOC FY 2015 budget.
First, it is important that the DOC budget be disaggregated to show what dollars are dedicated to programming on the Title 16 unit. We believe that stating what dollars fund these programs at CTF is important to allow this committee to 1) fulfill its oversight role of monitoring how DOC funds and provides programming for Title 16 youth and 2) ensure that high-quality programming, apart from just DCPS instruction, is available to this population. The Ridley Group report concluded that the programming currently offered for Title 16 youth is “insufficient and needs to be expanded,” that there is “still an opportunity to increase programming even further,” and made recommendations for specialized programming that is “responsive to the developmental needs” of this population. Currently, it is unclear what funding is available to implement these recommendations and to provide this type of programming on the unit. While the Ridley Group report indicates that DOC has increased the programming for youth, without knowing what specific funding will be used for these increases, this committee will have a difficult time ensuring that the recommendations of the Ridley Group report are being implemented. We encourage you to ask DOC for an exact number of dollars available for programming on the Title 16 unit.
Second, it is important that DOC continue to revise its policies on visitation and to adequately fund any necessary changes that will allow for in-person visitation for youth at CTF. We are pleased that youth who have achieved Gold Tier status will now receive in-person visits. We hope that this policy is still in place. We would also like to see all Title 16 youth receive in-person visits. Family contact is particularly important for the rehabilitation and reentry of youth and the conditions under which video visitation occurs is not conducive to meaningful family contact. If there is a need for staffing increases and a subsequent increased budget need, we ask this committee to allocate the additional funding necessary to provide in-person visits for all young people on the Title 16 unit.
We would like to thank you again for taking an interest in this population of young people who are charged as adults and held both pre and post trial in the adult jail. We are grateful that you made time to visit the Title 16 unit at CTF and were able to see first hand the conditions our young people experience during their confinement in this facility, which was built to house adults. We ask that this committee continue to fund additional programming for young people at CTF. Thank you and I am available to answer any questions.