Public Hearing before the Committee on Human Services on the FY2018 Budget of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services

Testimony Of Eduardo R. Ferrer
Executive Director, DC Lawyers For Youth
Budget Oversight Hearing for
     Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services
     Committee on Human Services
Tuesday, May 9, 11:00am
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004

     Good morning Councilmember Nadeau and members of the Committee on Human Services.  My name is Eduardo Ferrer and I am the Executive Director of DC Lawyers for Youth (DCLY). DCLY is a non-profit action tank focused on using data, research, evidence, and our experience representing youth to improve DC’s juvenile justice system.  Together with our allies who include juvenile justice advocates, defense attorneys, post-adjudication counsel, education attorneys and community-based service providers, we strive to make the District’s juvenile justice system the smallest and best system in the country. By “smallest,” we mean that the system should be reserved for only those young people for whom it is absolutely necessary.  By “best,” we means that we want to serve well those young people who do touch the system so that it will not only be their only contact but also so that they will have positive outcomes after coming into contact with the system.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify before your Committee today.

     We want to start by commending the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services for its responsiveness, its transparency, its focus on community engagement, and its commitment to youth.   Since Director Lacey was named the head of the agency, he and his management team have gone to great lengths to seek community input regarding various initiatives central to improving the agency’s functioning.  In particular, we would like to commend DYRS on two important initiatives for which DYRS sought extensive feedback from community advocates – the development of its case management manual and its review and documentation of its policies and procedures.  Both initiatives represent significant steps the agency has taken over the last year to improve its ability to successfully execute its mission of developing youth while keeping our District safe.  While we did not agree on everything, we are grateful for the opportunity to have worked with the agency on these initiatives and very much look forward to continuing to work with DYRS to improve the deep end of DC’s juvenile justice system. 

Fully Funding the Prohibition on Status Offender Secure Detainment and Commitment

     As this is the DYRS budget hearing, I will focus our testimony on our primary ask of the Committee for this budget cycle, namely, that this committee fully fund the provisions of the Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016 subject to appropriation that relate to the agencies within this committee’s purview.  Specifically, we ask that the committee appropriate the funding necessary for the provisions of the Act relating to the “Prohibition of Status Offender Secure Detainment and Commitment”[1] to take effect.  The purpose of these provisions is to prohibit status offenders from being placed in secure facilities such as the Youth Services Center or New Beginnings Youth Development Center.  Instead, status offenders will be placed in non-secure community-based placements that are more appropriate for their level of risks and needs.  The total fiscal impact of this provision for the FY2018 budget is $131,382 and $406,088 for Fiscal years 2018 through 2020.[2]  This is a relatively small financial investment to ensure that low-risk youth who are court-involved primarily for truant and runaway behavior are not detained in juvenile jail.  This is especially a relatively small ask in light of the fact that DYRS’s proposed FY18 budget is already nearly $4 million less than its FY17 budget. 

      By way of background, a status offense is a noncriminal offense that is only against the law because the youth is a minor.  Prohibiting the secure detention of status offenders not only has a broad base support nationally, including by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges,[3] but also, and perhaps more importantly, aligns with the research regarding what works. First, the research indicates that detaining youth who are at low risk for committing a delinquent offense is counter-productive.  Indeed, we know that detaining low risk youth is often the best method of turning low risk youth into medium or high-risk youth.[4]  Second, the availability of secure detention often means that the evidence-based, therapeutic, and community-based programs and services that would actually effectively address the root causes of why the youth is truant or running away from home do not exist, are not being utilized, or not being properly funded.[5]  By prohibiting the secure detention of status offenders, the Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act sought to both align our law and practice in the with research-driven best practices, but also encourage a realignment of our current system to drive resources away from expensive, ineffective detention towards more effective, community based placements and programs.  We implore the Committee to take advantage of this moment to further improve our juvenile justice system.

     To that end, we respectfully ask that the Committee allocate $132,000 to DYRS for the FY2018 budget for the purpose of implementing the prohibition on securely detaining status offenders that was passed by the DC council as part of the Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act.  We look forward to continuing to work with this Committee and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services to improve DC’s juvenile justice system.  And we specifically look forward to working with this committee and DYRS to fully implement the Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016. 

            Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  I am available for questions. 



[1] October 4, 2016 Fiscal Impact Statement prepared by Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt on Bill 21-683, Committee Print as shared with the Office of Revenue Analysis on September 19, 2016. 

[2] See id. 

[4] See Jake Horowitz, Testimony, “Improving Outcomes for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System, February, 28, 2017, at http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/speeches-and-testimony/2017/02/pews-horowitz-testifies-before-senate-panel-on-juvenile-justice; Edward P. Mulvey et al., “Trajectories of Desistance and Continuity in Antisocial Behavior Following Court Adjudication Among Serious Adolescent Offenders,” 22 Dev. & Psychopathology 453 (2010), available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908904/pdf/nihms207059.pdf.

[5] Mark W. Lipsey, “The Primary Factors that Characterize Effective Interventions with Juvenile Offenders: A Meta   Analytic Overview,” Victims & Offenders, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2009, available at  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15564880802612573.


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