Issue Briefs

Youth Arrest and Court Involvement: Trends in the District of Columbia (1998-2014)

Arrest Petitions TrendsThis report summarizes recent data on youth arrests and court involvement in the District of Columbia.  It expands upon previous DCLY publications on this topic by utilizing arrest data from 1998 through 2014 and adding analysis of delinquency petitions. The data presented in this report are primarily from two sources. Youth arrest data can be found in the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) annual reports, years 1998-2014. Data concerning court petitions against young people under age 18 are available in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Family Division (Family Court) annual reports to Congress, years 2002-2014.

The key findings of the analysis are:

  1. Youth arrests are at their lowest point in the past 10 years, and have decreased 27% since 2009.
  2. Delinquency petitions against youth have decreased 29% since 2009.
  3. Youth arrests for most categories of serious crimes have decreased or held steady since 1998.
  4. In 2014, 77% of youth arrests and 52% of delinquency petitions were for non-violent, non-weapons offenses.
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How DC’s Truancy Policy Fails Students, And Steps to Turn it Around

In the past few years, school attendance in the District has been improving. For example, the in-seat attendance rate in DC Public Schools increased 2% from the 2012-13 school year to the 2013-14 school year. However, some aspects of the District's attendance policy need to be improved. In particular, the Attendance Accountability Amendment Act of 2013 reduced the number of days that students can be absent before they are eligible for court referral. After this change, the number of complaints in Family Court based on an allegation that a child is "in need of supervision" (a category that includes truancy cases) increased by 92%. These additional court referrals are likely to be counter-productive given that research shows placing low-risk youth under court supervision increases their likelihood of future misbehavior.

In addition, punitive responses like court referral should not be used unless students have received early intervention that provides support they need to attend school. Some students do not attend because their families rely on them to care for younger siblings. Others are consistently late because they do not have money to take the Metro. Others are struggling in class so much that school seems more painful than helpful. Others face health or mental health barriers that prevent them from attending consistently. Each student's situation is different, and positive support services should always be the first tool that we use to engage students with inconsistent attendance. Despite these facts, DC Public Schools was only able to hold a "student support team" meeting that would provide such services for 38% of the students eligible for one during the first semester of this school year.

This report provides theoretical background on the reasons that some students fail to consistently attend school, presents data on the characteristics of DC students with high truancy rates, explains DC’s current truancy response policies, shows that the preventative elements of that response are under-funded, uses Family Court data to show that recent legal changes have driven a dramatic increase in truancy referrals, documents the lack of evidence that court prosecution is an effective way to get students to attend school, and shows that a truly effective response will require greater investments in school- and community-based services.

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Capital City Correction: Reforming DC's Use of Adult Incarceration Against Youth


Press Release | Full Report | Executive Summary

From 2007 to 2012, 541 youth were charged as adults and incarcerated in adult jail in the District of Columbia. While incarcerated in the adult jail, these DC youth were housed in a developmentally inappropriate and inadequate facility where they receive limited educational, behavioral health, and vocational services.  Most were not permitted to have in-person visits with family members. The majority of the time that youth spent at the adult jail was prior to trial, when youth are presumed innocent of the offense.

Research has consistently shown that trying youth as adults does not promote public safety and that youth in the adult system are at increased risk for victimization and suicide.  The Centers for Disease Control found that youth placed in the adult system are more likely to commit future crimes than similar youth treated in the juvenile system.  Adult facilities generally do not offer the rehabilitative programs youth need to turn their lives around, and their staff are often insufficiently trained to work with youth.  Youth in adult facilities are also at greater risk for sexual victimization, physical assault, and suicide.

This report explains how youth enter the adult system in DC, summarizes data about which DC youth experience adult prosecution, explains the scientific literature on adolescent brain development and the effects of incarcerating youth in adult facilities, and notes deficiencies in the Juvenile Unit that currently holds DC youth charged as adults.

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Reforming Youth Diversion in the District of Columbia

Since September of 2013, DC Lawyers for Youth has been working with four graduate students - Philip Tizzani, Marissa Davis, Candace Mitchell, and Diana Zarzuelo - from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government to analyze delinquency diversion programming in the District of Columbia and provide recommendations for how to improve programming and divert more of our youth from the juvenile justice system.  Over the last nine months, the students met with a variety of juvenile justice stakeholders across the District and completed substantial research into best practices around the country concerning diversion.  

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District Discipline: The Overuse of Suspension and Expulsion in the District of Columbia

Recent research has demonstrated that being excluded from the classroom for disciplinary reasons causes students to be less likely to advance in school and more likely to become involved in the juvenile justice system.  Data from the DC Public Schools (DCPS) and the Public Charter School Board (PCSB), reveal that the District issued over 18,000 suspensions during the 2011-12 school year and suspended over 13% of enrolled students at least once during the school year. 

This report, "District Discipline: The Overuse of Suspension and Expulsion in the District of Columbia," examines DCPS and PCSB data to determine which students are most affected by the District’s overuse of school exclusion and which schools use these tactics the most.  The report also makes recommendations for how the District can take steps to reduce its suspension and expulsion rates.

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DCLY March 2012 Issue Brief - Youth Arrest Trends in the District of Columbia (2007-2011)

Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) statistics show that youth arrests are at a five-year low after having declined 15 percent since a recent peak in 2009.  MPD statistics also demonstrate that youth arrests in 2011 accounted for the lowest proportion of overall arrests than any other point in the last five years, that youth arrests over a variety of offense categories have declined substantially over the last five years, and that youth arrests for homicide in the District are at an all-time low since 2007.

This brief analyzes data pertaining to youth arrests in the District over the last five years.

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DCLY May 2011 Issue Brief - Debunking Urban Legends: Summer Heat, Vacation Don’t Lead to More Youth Arrests

Despite the public presumption that crime goes up when kids are no longer sitting behind desks and are out on the streets during summer vacation, data from the Washington Metropolitan Police Department shows that youth are arrested less frequently during summer months when compared to the rest of the year, according to a new brief published today by DC Lawyers for Youth (DCLY).

The brief takes a look at seasonal and annual weekly averages of juvenile arrests and the seasonal average of juvenile arrests for violent offenses from 2007 to 2010 and found that there is no relation between summer and an increase in juvenile crime.

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DCLY Issue Brief March 2011 - Comparison of Juvenile, Young Adult, and Adult Arrests in the District of Columbia (2010)

Since 2007, there has been a 21 percent decline in juvenile arrests for Part I offenses in the District and total arrests are also on the downswing for DC young people. Despite the harmful rhetoric surrounding juvenile crime in the District, young people make up a proportionately low number of arrests. This new brief notes that young adult and adult arrests far outnumber those of juveniles and that juvenile arrests are trending downward in nearly every offense category.

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DCLY Issue Brief January 2011 - Juvenile Arrest Trends in the District of Columbia (2007 - 2010)

Over the coming months, DC Lawyers for Youth (“DCLY”) will be publishing a series of briefs exploring a variety of issues relating to DC's juvenile justice system.  The first issue brief in the series - Juvenile Arrest Trends in the District of Columbia (2007-2010) - analyzes Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) juvenile arrest data over the last four years and identifies five important trends in juvenile arrest data.

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