WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a public emergency over growing concerns of youth violence. Largely it would expand capacity for kids to be placed in shelter homes and secure facilities.
The emergency declaration allows the District to make room for more kids ordered into care by judges.
But advocates say it still doesn’t address the root causes of violence, nor does it address a lack of resources for those kids.
“We know that we have too many young people involved in violent activity in our city, both causing violence and becoming victims of violence,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Bowser’s youth violence emergency order will allow the District to bypass administrative red tape, allowing procurement of additional placements for youth at shelter homes, group homes, supervised independent living facilities, secure facilities, residential treatment centers, psychiatric residential treatment centers and foster homes.
“Creating and enforcing necessary boundaries that is loving, and that means ensuring at a basic level that they have the right level of services and supports, including the right level of placement,” said Lindsey Appiah, the deputy mayor for public safety and justice.
The order also incentivizes private providers to open additional shelter homes, group homes and shelter beds for girls.
Sam Abed, director of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, said they didn’t have an issue with shelter beds for girls until October and now they’re working to increase capacity.
“Private providers are for-profit entities, and so we want to be able to provide incentives so that we can get them on because, as those numbers show, we haven’t had the need to [increase] shelter homes for girls,” Abed said.
The emergency order also will allow the Department of General Services to undertake expedited renovations at the Youth Services Center (YSC) for a new 10-bed unit.
That’s despite an uptick in violence at YSC and some kids being locked up for up to 23 hours a day because of short staffing, according to Councilmember Trayon White.
“Having more space gives us that ability to ensure that they are safe,” Abed said.
“Rather than building jail cells, rather than building more detention, we should be focused on building strong young people, strong families and strong communities,” said Eduardo Ferrer, a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center working in the Georgetown Juvenile Justice Clinic.
Ferrer says Bowser should be more focused on prevention, especially as it relates to poverty.
“Just increasing direct cash assistance and support for families is a much better use of our time and attention than building new jail cells,” Ferrer said.
The order also allows the District to engage in cooperative agreements for programs and placements for detained and committed youth, including rehabilitative, therapeutic, substance-abuse and trauma-informed programs.
“We don’t want our young people in secure detention, and we’re working ways to find ways in a challenging system to identify and provide rehabilitative services and supports,” Appiah said.
Ferrer says the mayor should focus on increasing access to extracurricular activities and community-based supports that expose young people to adult mentors and pro-social peers. He also underscored the importance of dealing with trauma.
“Most young people who come into contact with the system have experienced significant amounts of trauma prior to system involvement. And then we’re putting them in places that just add to that trauma,” Ferrar said.