D.C.'s Run Out of Room Behind Bars to House Juvenile Offenders

(Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center via AP)

I wrote yesterday about the shocking rise in juvenile crime in Washington, D.C., including a 13-year-old who was shot and killed while allegedly trying to carjack an off-duty federal security officer over the weekend and several months after he was arrested and charged with nine earlier carjackings in the District. Since that report we’ve learned that the teen’s 12-year-old alleged accomplice has now been arrested in connection with the carjacking, and he’s not the only youthful offender who’s been busted for violent crimes in our nation’s capitol over the past few days.


In fact, according to Fox 5 in D.C., juvenile crime is so out of control that the District has run out of space to keep violent juvenile suspects behind bars.

And on Monday, two teens were taken into custody for 10 separate carjackings across the District — seven of them done at gunpoint. A 16-year-old is being charged as an adult in six carjackings over the past two months and a 15-year-old is suspected in four that took place between Oct. 21 and Oct. 26.

Last week, a 15-year-old girl was arrested for a carjacking and fatal crash on Brentwood Road. She was allowed to go home with an ankle monitor – despite her priors for robbery and theft, according to the Washington Post.

FOX 5 was told she was allowed to go home because the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services said there was no space for her.

In fact, FOX 5 has learned that the agency has 88 beds but the facility currently has 94 juveniles in custody.

Meanwhile, council members have their own questions.

“I don’t understand what those reasons are and that’s the problem is that we need to be clear. Did the court misjudge or did the prosecutor misjudge or is it the DYRS not functioning effectively? So, that’s not clear,” D.C. City Council chair Phil Mendelson said.


Maybe the answer is “all of the above”, but at the very least it looks like the city doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle the amount of juvenile crime that’s taking place, and that’s a problem that the city council should have addressed months ago. Instead, the council has been bitterly divided over how to fight the surge in violent crime that’s taken place throughout the city, with one faction calling for more community-based resources and efforts outside of the criminal justice system, while Mayor Muriel Bowser and her allies have belatedly adopted a more tough-on-crime approach.

The city council passed a public safety bill earlier this year that was supposed to make it easier to keep both adult and juvenile suspects in custody depending on the severity of their alleged crimes, but if there’s no space for youthful offenders then those measures are moot. Bowser introduced another public safety bill earlier this month, but that too fails to address the shortage of space available to keep violent suspects and those convicted of violent crimes in custody. Instead, it rolls back many of the criminal justice “reforms” that were put in place a few years ago; something that might be necessary but won’t address the underlying issues within the criminal justice system.


D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced a public safety package on Monday reneging on several police reform measures passed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, including restrictions to use-of-force, vehicular pursuits, and body-worn camera footage requirements.

The ACT Now Act of 2023 (or Addressing Crime Trends Now Act) would also create new penalties for organized retail theft, allow the police chief to declare certain areas “drug-free zones,” and reinstate a law that makes it illegal to wear a mask for committing a crime.

The emphasis on policing — and criticisms of the reforms instituted in the council’s Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act — follow the mayor’s posture this year regarding crime reduction, which has largely centered around enforcement and heightened criminal penalties.

Even in uber-liberal D.C. we’re seeing a backlash to the Defund the Police efforts of just a few years ago, but unless the city has the infrastructure in place to confine violent criminals behind bars it doesn’t matter how many arrests police make. The catch-and-release system that’s spitting repeat offenders back onto the streets will still prevail, and offenders young and old will still get the message that crime actually does pay, or at least comes with few consequences. Creating new criminal offenses or declaring parts of the city “drug-free zones” isn’t going to do the trick. D.C.’s political class has to ensure that the criminal justice system isn’t so dysfunctional that repeat, violent offenders are getting nothing more than a finger wagged in their faces if they really want to reduce violent crime, and that seems about as likely as the city council adopting constitutional carry or getting rid of some of their favorite “gun-free zones.”



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