CFYJ testifies on conditions of confinement for DC Youth in Jail
On February 19th, DC Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D – DC), Chairperson of the Committee on the Judiciary held a Performance Oversight Hearing for the Department of Corrections (DOC), the Office of Returning Citizens Affairs (ORCA), the Corrections Information Council (CIC), and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS). At the hearing, the Campaign for Youth Justice testified on the conditions of confinement for youth held in the Juvenile Unit of the Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF), the severe lack of programming for these youth, as well as the need for staff training on adolescent development. One of the top issues mentioned by Carmen Daugherty, Policy Director of the Campaign for Youth Justice, was the issue of solitary confinement and its harmful impact on youth. Daniel Okonkwo, Executive Director of DC Lawyers for Youth testified at the hearing on the inadequacy of adult facilities to provide the services that youth need for positive development. He highlighted a need for education, exercise, and pro-social interactions with positive role models. Okonkwo stated that passage of the Youth Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act (YOARA) would alleviate some of the concerns raised by advocates, families, and youth.
During questioning, Councilmember McDuffie raised some questions to Thomas Faust, the Director of the Department of Corrections, regarding some of the poignant issues and concerns regarding youth housed at CTF. Currently, according to Faust, 11 youth are confined in CTF. When questioned about solitary confinement, Faust responded that he “rejected” the term “solitary confinement” because what was actually occurring was an “administrative segregation.” Based on his response, “administrative segregation” means being in a cell for 23 hours a day for a maximum of 5 days, at which time a committee must review whether or not the youth held in this solitary confinement will remain “administratively segregated, ”or be released back to the general population. As the Campaign testified, studies have shown that this type of treatment, whether you call it “administrative segregation” or “solitary confinement,” is harmful to the mental, physical, and emotional health of developing youth.
Furthermore, Faust testified that he questions whether or not the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services’ facility is equipped to house the youth in the Juvenile Unit of the Correctional Treatment Facility due to the fact that some of the youth are “violent offenders.” He then testified that the youth housed in the Correctional Treatment Facility were less likely to act out and were given more privileges due to good behavior which would lead one to believe that maybe there’s more to be said about the “violent offenders” he deemed unsafe for housing in a youth facility. Studies have shown that youth can be rehabilitated, which is the basis for having a separate facility and judicial system for youth and Faust’s testimony on the good behavior of the youth housed in the Correctional Treatment Facility is evidence of this fact. It also further solidifies the need to educate DC Council on the ways youth are treated when they have contact with the law and how YOARA can strengthen public safety by providing much needed rehabilitative services to all youth.