Guest Column: Jim Graham

Dear Friends, This holiday season, my prayers are with families and friends who have lost loved ones due to violence in our city.

Day after day Homicide Watch offers a window into a family’s pain and grief. It also provides all of us a glimpse into the legal and judicial process related to each incident. Laura Amico’s reporting is sensitive, compassionate and always timely.

Over the last several years, we have seen great community partnerships developed by MPD and community groups to reduce violence—these efforts help save lives.

Still, all of us would agree too many young people continue to die violent deaths—and often at the hands of other young people. As of this week, 44 of the 106 homicide victims are younger than 25 years old.

Since last January I have served as Chair of the Committee on Human Services which includes the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS). The Committee has been taking a thorough look at DYRS— its successes and its challenges. DYRS represents the city’s last opportunity to help a young offender steer a new direction in their life and away from crime. Good progress is being made. But more is needed.

Sixteen homicide victims this year had some involvement with DYRS or Court Social Services (CSS). Nine persons have been arrested this year on murder charges that had been in DYRS custody at one point in their lives. This means 25 young people— known to the juvenile justice system— are now either dead or in jail facing homicide charges.

We must do a better job rehabilitating juvenile offenders and making our communities safer. The Committee has directed DYRS to establish the following programs this year:

  • $ 1 million to establish a DC based residential substance abuse treatment facility.
  • $750,000 to establish a workforce development program that will include neighborhood based clean teams and “green job training”.
  • $500,000 to eliminate gang and crew activities at New Beginnings and develop a gang intervention strategy in the community.

I will continue to work with Mayor Gray’s Administration and DYRS on the following:

DYRS spends $24 million a year sending young offenders out of state for mental health treatment and substance abuse recovery programs. These funds should be invested in programs closer to home.

  • Improve New Beginnings Youth Development Center
  • Secure dormitories and campus so young people are safe from each other.
  • Maximize full benefit of the 60 beds by relocating kids awaiting placement.
  • Increase vocational training programs to complement educational programs.
  • Require group home operators to secure their facilities and hire appropriately trained staff. 50 young people are missing from group homes each month.
  • Build capacity of community based service providers to provide quality mental health, substance abuse and workforce development programs.
  • Implement new juvenile confidentiality laws to ensure transparency and help communities become active participants in reducing youth crime.

With these actions, solid progress will be achieved.

With every good wish for the Holidays, CM Jim Graham.

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