Message from Chief Judge Satterfield, DC Superior Court and CM Jim Graham on Youth Crime

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Photo from PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

I had to share this message, from the Ward 1 listserv, about juvenile crime. Get ready to be frustrated:

I have been made aware of an email exchange on several Ward1 listservs last week in which several inaccurate statements were made about the juvenile justice system in the District of Columbia . I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify what authority D.C. law does – and does not – provide Family Court judges. I would ask that one of you please forward this to the listservs that the exchange was posted on.

DC law does not provide the Court with any authority over youth committed to the custody of the city. Family Court judges who find a juvenile ‘involved’ in a crime (the DC Code’s nomenclature for guilt), have but two options: put the youth on probation, which the court’s juvenile probation officers monitor and over which the judges have control, or, if the judge thinks probation is not sufficient, the judge can commit the youth to the city at which point the court loses all authority over the youth including the authority to securely detain a youth.

In his email, in reference to a particular case, CM Graham said that judge after judge did not “take charges seriously enough” and that “one of the reasons we have such a high level of youth violence in this city is this: Young criminals think they have nothing to fear from the courts…” I agree that youth often do not fear going before a judge but the reason is that youth know that if they are adjudicated guilty by a judge, the judge has no authority to securely detain them under DC law. However, I disagree with CM Graham’s statement that judges do not take the charges seriously. Usually when judges commit youth to the city, we do so because we believe that probation is not sufficient and that the youth needs secure detention or long term residential placement at a treatment facility. In other words, we believe that the charges are serious enough to warrant removing the youth from the community either for the safety of the community or safety of the youth. We just do not have the authority to accomplish this goal. I have expressed these concerns many times to members of both the legislative and executive branches of government. So I find it very troubling and somewhat irresponsible when I see this public effort by CM Graham to blame the judges. No system is perfect, including the court system. However, we make every effort to meet the needs of all residents in the community that we serve, consistent with our mandate to provide justice for all.

Lee F. Satterfield

Chief Judge
Superior Court of the District of Columbia

After the jump is an email from CM Graham about the need for tougher youth laws.

We are once again experiencing a spike in crew/gang related violence in Ward One. Over the last 2 weeks, in Ward 1 alone, we have had multiple shootings, all of which were targeted, crew related incidents. Beefs, retaliation, gun shots. Several young men were wounded. No arrests as yet. They are all now back on the streets, with their fellow crew members, angry and probably armed. We have strong police presence, but the most recent shooting occurred right in front of an MPD camera with the police on patrol literally seconds away.

I have worked hard on the Council fighting for BOTH enhanced enforcement powers and funding for best practice gang / crew prevention and intervention programs. I have authored $2.5 million in funding to establish the citywide gang intervention strategy. And this summer will be the 9th year for my Ward One summer youth employment program that employs young people between ages 14 – 21 who do not typically sign up for the DOES Summer Youth Employment Program.

There is no substitute for effective enforcement and police action, however. Last year, I was pleased the Council adopted the first 2 recommendations contained in the Blueprint for Action: Responding to Gang / Crew Violence in the District of Columbia which I funded. (Copies are available in my Office) Chief Lanier and Mayor Fenty have led the way in implementing those recommendations.

This week I reviewed the arrest and other records of an 18 year old man (now charged with murder). It was a sorry tale of offense after offense between the age of 14 and 18. Judge after judge did not take the charges seriously enough. If the public could see these records, there would be such a public outcry against how our criminal prosecution system works with youthful offenders.

I am absolutely convinced that one of the reasons we have such a high level of youth violence in this city is this: Young criminals think they have nothing to fear from the courts and the prose. Their greatest fear is instead what will happen to them on the streets.

So once again, I have joined Councilmember Evans in co-introducing a bill (18-595) to strengthen the ability of MPD, the Office of the Attorney General and the US Attorney’s Office to fight entrenched crime in our neighborhoods. Councilmember Mendelson, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety and Justice has scheduled a public hearing on the bill on April 19.

As introduced, the bill:

* Enhances mandatory sentencing guidelines for known criminal street gang members using a firearm while committing a crime.
* Authorizes filing civil actions against persons that obstruct, hinder, impede the free use of public space and free passage on public space.
* Adds evidence of firearms to the Drug Related Nuisance Abatement laws.
* Makes possession of PCP a felony offense.
* Allows witnesses and victims access to certain information on juvenile proceedings.
* Establishes a Community Impact Statement which allows 1 or more members of a community to submit a statement to a Judge prior to the sentencing of a convicted criminal. (Related to this, I have been very supportive and pleased with the work of Cecilia Jones and the Community Criminal Justice Accountability Initiative)

We need your testimony and support on April 19. Please let me know if you would like a copy of the bill.

55 Comment

  • It’s hard to tell who’s at fault, but the system clearly doesn’t work. I’d be interested to hear from any prosecutors. My inclination is that the judges are the one’s not stepping up and doing what they should.

    • If I had to choose between two interpretations of the law – a politician’s or a judge’s – I would go with the judge’s.
      And CM Graham’s credibility on this issue is further undermined by the fact that there is nothing in his proposal that addresses the real reason why juveniles don’t fear the justice system – no matter what they do they don’t have to worry about being treated like an adult. I would take the proposal more seriously if it provided for treating juveniles who commit serious offenses – murder, armed robbery and assault, rape, etc. -like adults.

      • On the face of it, I would agree. However, I don’t trust judges that have been in DC for the past 20-30 years. There was clearly a feeling if not a policy under Barry that non-violent childhood crimes were not going to result in any formal punishment. While on a superficial level I don’t think youthful indiscretion should result in a lifelong black mark, there was no backup mechanism to teach right/wrong. You have to have consequences for bad behavior or else you learn that bad behavior is acceptable.

        So I don’t necessarily trust the judges to be anything more than Barry-ites.

  • The council has shown time and time again that they will not support laws that adequately punish juvi criminals or quaility of life laws such as loitering etc.

    I fault the council first, and the prosectutors second for not aggressively pursuing criminals at the 18-25 age bracket.

  • Awesome post PoP. Nice to hear it from a judge. Highlights one of the most serious problems we have here in the Nation’s Capital. Perhaps President Obama (is he the chief law enforcement officer in our country?) could get involved with this one and help push it across the finish line! Seriously, something needs to be done to deal with the fact that we have so many children in this city running around with loaded weapons and how often they seem to enjoy using them…

  • Relying on the criminal justice system alone to solve the problem of violence in the city will never succeed. It takes a village. For reals.

    • Step one in the village is the creation of effective governance. You are not going to solve any problem via random uncoordinated efforts to hug/mentor/reach out and crap like that. Violent thugs are probably the original reason governments were created.

    • It takes parents too, but we have a lack of parental supervision as well.

    • the best way to solve the crime problem is with gentrification.

  • Great start, let’s have this discussion. I hope this will be the most discussed post to a point where people rises up to the occucstion to further this till we get some measurable results. I was once a teansageer, from poor family, but never was involved in huring others, so I think the law needs to touging up on teenagers and young adult who commit crim. Fear is a good thing. Everyone should pay the consquences for thier ‘bad’ actions.

    • got excited and types too fast… sorry for the spelling mistakes

    • Great start, let’s have this discussion. I hope this will be the most discussed post to a point where people rises up to the occasion to further this till we get some measurable results. I was once a teenager, from poor family, but never was involved in hurting others (by choice), so I think the law needs to toughing up on teenagers and young adult who commit crimes. Fear is a good thing. Everyone should pay the consequences for their ‘bad’ actions.

  • One thing I don’t know – maybe someone can answer this: what does it mean when a youth is “charged as an adult”? Does that mean that they are remanded to the normal (non juvi) court system? Are they still released when they are 21, or can they be incarcerated for longer periods?

    Rather than trying to remake the juvenile justice system, which seems intractable and fraught with politics, perhaps we can push for more offenders to be “charged as adults”, and at younger ages.

  • Shame on Graham for not knowing how the system works and punting blame to the judiciary. The problem in this case is within the Council, within the Committee on Human Services (headed by Tommy Wells) and its DYRS, and within withe Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary (headed by Phil Mendelson). The former has been in federal receivership since before I was born as far as I know, and is obviously good at dodging blame. The latter refuses to make penalties mandatory and obligatory for violent offenders regardless of age. Face it, politically we have accepted a culture and city of violence. Step one to remedying this is removal of Mendelson, perhaps Wells too, but both are pretty secure given then considerable constituencies they’ve garnered via their refusal to punish criminals and willingness to hand out free money. Marrion Barry is tougher on crime than these clowns.

    Note I have no love for our federally appointed judges either. They generally live in VA.

    • I’m intrigued by your statements. What is the basis for your claims? I’m not contradicting you, I am interested in how these committees have influenced the prosecution of crimes. I am generally under the impression that the judges are the ones handing out the light sentences.

      And I have no love for JG.

      • Which claims? DYRS does handle juveniles and is part of DHS. CPSJ is headed by Mendelson, and in regards to him and law enforcement I find this article very useful:

        When I tried to get Mendelson to discuss it he basically told me to get lost, though I have been able to confirm various details. Last years crime bill debate was also extremely educational to watch, crime is just not an important issue to our council was my take away. It is likely that judges are often lenient, but for youth issues they don’t have much say. Judges act based on la and law is made by council is how I think of it. I would say the mayor can propose legislation to the council, but we see how that goes in DC. Anyways, hope I answer your question, feel free to call me out on some bits as there’s some editorializing and personal opinion in there as well.

        • I was just looking for information like the link you provided. Clearly you’ve been paying attention to the news articles. That’s all I was looking for.

          And having read them, I agree with you. PM is also a strong WTU supporter too. If you look at the problems in DC, decrepit schools and youth violence, he’s at the center of both.

  • This may be a dumb question, but I am a little confused by the statement: “the judge can commit the youth to the city at which point the court loses all authority over the youth including the authority to securely detain a youth”

    Who has authority over the juveniles at that point?

  • The people of the District of Columbia need to give the Department of Youth and “Rehabilitative” Services a new mandate:

    Lock them up and throw away the key.

  • I’d go with the judges view too. In Graham’s statement and proposed legislation, he doesn’t mention anything about judicial involvement. There is definitely a disconnect between him and the dc judicial system.

  • Grahams proposed bill has some good points, but:

    1) Enhances mandatory sentencing guidelines for known criminal street gang members using a firearm while committing a crime: MENDELSON WILL NOT SUPPORT
    * Authorizes filing civil actions against persons that obstruct, hinder, impede the free use of public space and free passage on public space: ACLU WILL NOT ALLOW. SEE LOITERING DISCUSSION OF LAST YEAR.
    * Adds evidence of firearms to the Drug Related Nuisance Abatement laws: POSSIBLE.
    * Makes possession of PCP a felony offense: POSSIBLE
    * Allows witnesses and victims access to certain information on juvenile proceedings: NEVER GONNA HAPPEN AS LONG AS DYRS IS A MESS.
    * Establishes a Community Impact Statement which allows 1 or more members of a community to submit a statement to a Judge prior to the sentencing of a convicted criminal. ALREADY IN PLACE, YOU SUBMIT ONE TO THE US ATTORNEYS OFFICE, THOUGH WHETHER ITS ACTUALLY PRESENTED TO THE JUDGE IS ANOTHER THING.

  • The problem is with DYRS and its so-called leadership. This is from the webiste:

    The mission of DYRS is to improve public safety and give court-involved youths the opportunity to become more productive citizens by building on the strengths of youths and their families in the least restrictive, most homelike environment consistent with public safety.

    DYRS will provide the nation’s best continuum of care for court-involved youths and their families through a wide range of programs that emphasize individual strengths, personal accountability, skill development, family involvement, and community support.

    And this is the Director’s bio:

    Marc A. Schindler Esq.

    Marc A. Schindler has been an integral part of DYRS’s management team since March 2005. Prior to his appointment as Interim Director, Schindler served as Chief of Staff to the director (2006-present), assisting with overall management of the agency and reforms, and was the agency’s point person on issues related to professional development, communications, legislative relations and internal investigations. Schindler previously served as DYRS’ first General Counsel from 2005-2006, following the establishment of DYRS as a cabinet level agency.

    Prior to joining DYRS, Marc served as a Staff Attorney with the Youth Law Center (YLC), a national public interest civil rights law firm dedicated to protecting the rights of young people in juvenile justice and child welfare systems nationwide, from 1997 to 2005. While at YLC Marc was involved with training, technical assistance, law reform litigation, and legislative and administrative advocacy on legal issues related to children, with particular emphasis on improving the conditions of confinement for institutionalized children and addressing racial disparities in the justice system.

    As an attorney with the Youth Law Center, he was involved in extensive advocacy on behalf of children in juvenile justice systems throughout the country, including in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. Marc also served as co-chair of the national Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Coalition in Washington, DC, was a founding member of the Justice for DC Youth Coalition, and taught children’s rights at American University’s Washington College of Law. Schindler has served on numerous boards and commissioners including as a member of the ABA’s Juvenile Justice Committee (1993-2005), the DC Police Complaints Board (2003-2005), the Maryland Governor’s Task Force on Juvenile Justice (1996) and the Committee for Baltimore’s Children (1995). He previously worked as an Assistant Public Defender in Baltimore’s juvenile court representing children in delinquency proceedings, where he was the recipient of the Cahill Award for outstanding commitment to service and chaired the Juvenile Law Committee of the Baltimore City Bar Association.

    It seems to me that the focus of this organization is misplaced. Their mission should be to keep the people of Washington DC safe from these little thugs.

  • I’m over Graham, his glad handling, and his empty promises. Let’s see some new blood on the city council. I don’t know who is better, but hopefully someone will step it up.

  • It wouldn’t be the first time the \Grahamstander\ was a blowhard.

  • Introspective Question of the Day:

    Given the national reputation of the party, if there was a Republican running who was middle of the road and willing to take a stand on this issue, would you vote for him/her?

    I’d have a hard time voting for any (R), but given what I see from the city’s Democratic party, I’d be open to the idea.

    • Yes and absolutely. Any DC Republican would be a pretty weak one to be palatable, so I think it would be a good mix. Our one party system has not really benefited us. However, I also don’t think our DC Democratic party is unified at all, and also features a spectrum of relatively conservative to liberal thought. Overall I don’t see it as a big deal, but some bedrock Republican values might be good for DC (not the god hates fags and kill the blacks sort of Republican values).

    • saf

      I miss Carol Schwartz.

  • Very informative post. I did not know this about the DC court system. I have zero trust in DC’s system. I was awarded restitution by a DC court but I never got any money or was told any way that I could get any money.

  • I’d be up for stronger PCP penalties, because while it’s on the decline since the 80s, it can make people more aggressive–increasing the likelihood that they commit crimes and posing a risk to cops who try to intervene.

    40% of arrestees tested positive for it in the 80s:

    16% in 2003

    10% last year

  • To clarify, re Briefly’s comment, above, DC judges are legally required to live in DC. Most have lived here the majority, if not all, of their lives.

  • ah

    The judges are appointed by the President from a list of nominees prepared by a judicial commission. So the appointment process is pretty detached from the DC Council

  • So basically, if the judge thinks probation is not severe enough for the offense he/she can send the kid to DYRS who will then lose track of the kid after he/she leaves the group home.

  • Good for Clark Ray!

  • Mr. Chief Judge,

    Thank you for your message. I appreciate your service to the District over these many years and your ongoing commitment to improving services to our most vulnerable young people.

    I know we have a judiciary here in the District of Columbia almost entirely independent of the DC government. But our objective surely ought to be that judges and the Family Court Social Services Division work more closely with existing DC government and community based programs to provide much needed services to young offenders while they are under Court Social Services authority. Time after time I hear from MPD officers and community residents about young people being arrested for low level crimes and returned to the community with little or no restrictions and support. And before we know it, too often he/she is committing more serious crimes.

    This is the infamous “juvenile revolving door” that my constituents are very concerned about.

    The courts are in fact very much involved. I understand there are on any given day 1700 young people under supervision by 90 Court Social Services probation officers; this is a ratio close to 1:20. There is a similar ratio at DYRS. Given the needs of young people have already demonstrated criminal and dangerous behaviors, we must have more eyes and ears on them. We must have a more open juvenile justice system to share information and offer services if we are going to help save lives.

    One of the findings of the Blue Print for Action: Response to Gang and Crew Violence makes this point very well on pg. 24.

    5. The bifurcation of the juvenile justice system in the District creates unique and difficult challenges in developing an integrated approach to youth violence prevention.

    The District has two distinct systems serving juvenile offenders; Court Social Services (CSS), funded by the federal government and managed by DC Superior Court, and the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services (DYRS). CSS is responsible for all juveniles from their point of arrest to sentencing, and provides ongoing services to youth for whom criminal involvement has been determined. These youth can live at home or in a variety of community settings. Youth considered unsuccessful in the community (often re-offending) or thought to be a very serious safety risk are committed to the custody of DYRS. Approximately 20% of youth offenders get committed to the District in this way. These youth can live at home, in community settings including foster care and group homes, secure detention and residential placement facilities.

    This separation in care and planning for DC youth offenders creates many structural barriers to good, comprehensive planning and results in unnecessary threats to the youth and community due to a lack of good community plans: • Due to its federal funding and structure, CSS often operates in isolation from other child/youth serving entities in the city; as a result CSS staff (probation officers) are often not knowledgeable about services, supports, programs or activities available in the community. • Youth on probation most often only get access to services specifically designed and funded by CSS though in truth they are eligible for a wide array of community based and Medicaid funded supports.

    Year after year we see young repeat offenders, growing up to be serious public safety issues. Lives are being wasted and lost. I take this matter very seriously and I also know that the judges who have to confront this crisis on a day-to-day basis take it seriously, too. We are all frustrated by the persistence of this problem; I was writing passionately to express my desire to see more success in ending the cycle of youth crime and violence.

    I am willing to work with you , Councilmember Mendelson and Councilmember Wells, and all of my colleagues on continued reforms needed throughout the juvenile justice system. Your specific suggestions are welcome.

    Sincerely, Councilmember Jim Graham

  • So is Graham now back peddling (!) away from his previous assertion that judge’s are letting juvie thugs out, or is he more concisely identifying CSS as the problem? Ie judges remand the offender to CSS who then doesn’t supervise them. This would be prior to sentencing, where the judge sends them to DYRS who doesn’t supervise them.

    I confess I didn’t even know of CSS…

  • Again, it would be nice to hear from a prosecutor and a few anonymous cops on this issue. A verbal spat between the judges and the dc council over who’s responsible is like when you have 2 kids and one of them broke something.

    Also, it would be nice at some point to re-frame the issue from “society vs. errant youth” to “kids who are trying to stay on the straight and narrow vs. kids who are predators”. If the ACLU had a set of balls, they’d start protecting the weak kids from the dangerous kids –in schools and in neighborhoods. Right now every kid in DCPS has to be tough and many get pushed into gangs for protection from kids who should not be allowed in school or on the street.

  • from today’s Post:

    The 14-year-old suspect, charged as a juvenile with first-degree murder, made his initial court appearance at a hearing that was closed to the public. A Washington Post reporter was allowed to attend on the condition that the suspect’s name not be published.

    Wearing a hooded jacket, the youth stood in shackles in the courtroom and was ordered held in a juvenile detention center until a court hearing April 7. Superior Court Judge Elizabeth C. Wingo noted that the youth has nine previous convictions on charges including assault and theft and had been placed in the custody of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services six times.

    Court officials said the youth had fled from detention at least twice and had walked away without permission from DYRS custody before Tuesday’s attack.

  • With all do respect to the Judge, Judges do not take certain crimes seriously is true.
    I watched a women in court trying to get a restraining order against a male relative. The Judge listen to testimony from the parents of the man and believed them when they said they’ve never seen any violence.
    That women begged for the restraining order telling the Judge that they had a very violent family.

    The Judge told her she was like a Shakespear play, then he said ” the lady doth protest too much” and denied the request.

    Exactly 2 weeks later, the father that took the witness stand was at her house threatening to kill her. She ran and locked herself in a room and the man assaulted her sister. He got arrested and convicted but his son is still stalking, threatening, and harassing the lady and she has no where to go for help because when she went to request another restraining order, domestic violence clerk said she would have to have the same Judge so she felt hopeless and on this day 4/14/2010 she continues to suffer.

    Had Judge Lopez errored on the side of caution, the violence, arrest, harassment, stalking, and anguish would have stopped or not happened.

    Judges do not take intrafamily crime seriously.
    Women are not safe from the violence of male family members. The day Judge Lopez denied that restraining order, the men in her family felt empowered to do anything to her they wanted and they taunted her with the words, a “judge will never give you one now”

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