DC Council Testimony in Opposition to Parental Responsibility and Youth Safety Act of 2007

Testimony of Daniel Okonkwo, Board Member, DC Lawyers for Youth

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Committee:

My name is Daniel Okonkwo, I am here today on behalf of the members of a new organization called DC Lawyers for Youth, an organization founded and staffed by alumni of the Georgetown University Law Center’s Juvenile Justice Clinic. Let me start by stating that we absolutely support measures to keep our youth safe and that make it less likely that they will become victims of crime. However, the current proposed legislation, does not take a collaborative approach to solving the problems of ensuring the safety of D.C.’s youth. The proposed Parental Responsibility and Youth Safety Act of 2007, well-intentioned though it may be, is a punitive rather than supportive measure, a quick-fix rather than a long-term sustainable solution and we owe it to our youth and D.C.’s parents to engage in a more collaborative process before enacting legislation that redefines neglect.

First, the available data does not support the effectiveness of either the presumption of neglect or a 10 PM curfew at safeguarding our youth. This proposed legislation is not likely to address the victimization of juveniles 13 and under as the peak hours for juvenile victimization occur before 10 PM. In fact, the peak hour for violent crimes against youth ages 12 to 14 is around 3 PM. Furthermore, the majority of violent crime dangers to juveniles occur in places and at hours that are not addressed by the proposed legislation.

Second, the available data does not support the effectiveness of either the presumption of neglect or a 10 PM curfew at reducing the crimes committed by juveniles. Available data shows that violent crimes committed by youth offenders peaks at 3 PM during school days and 8 PM during non-school days. Additionally, data from the Metropolitan Police Department shows that 94 percent of all arrests and 82 percent of violent arrests were committed by adults. Therefore, what is essentially a 10 PM curfew with the added burden of the possibility of a neglect investigation against parents will not effectively curtail juvenile offenders.

Third, this proposed Act is not a comprehensive, holistic approach to the problems of reducing juvenile offenses or victimization. The District should utilize other alternatives to the punitive approach taken by this Act to ensure the protection and supervision of D.C.’s children and youth. One area of need is that parents need a safe place to send their children while they are at work. Therefore, the city should focus on keeping recreation centers—which provide a safe, supervised and most likely air-conditioned place for kids—open later at night. It should invest in more youth programs, and improve employment opportunities for youth.

Finally, the Council should not rush to amend the law. Every summer the District finds youth crime an emergency and appears to rush to enact new legislation and emergency measures. It is troubling to us, however, that the District does not seem to have the same community programs, the District takes its time to evaluate the available resources and how best to spend them rather than enacting emergency measures or fast-tracking amendments to existing law. It appears that the District treats its youth like adults when it is convenient, yet does not afford them the same consideration or respect when it regards their individual liberties. The safety of our children is no doubt of paramount importance; however, punitive measures such as the proposed Act will not effectively address this problem.

Thank you very much for your time.