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DC's Juvenile Justice System

In the District of Columbia, a juvenile is defined as an individual under the age of 18. The following steps outline the typical journey through the District’s juvenile justice system.

Arrest and Processing

After an arrest, a youth can be processed by the DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) at the Youth Services Center (YSC). In some cases, MPD may choose to dismiss or divert the youth to a program outside of the juvenile justice system. Otherwise, Court Social Services (CSS) conducts a screening to determine whether the youth should be held at YSC or released to a guardian until the next court action.

Pre-Adjudication Stage

If the DC Office of the Attorney General (OAG) petitions the case in the juvenile system, an initial hearing is held to determine whether the case will move forward and, if so, where the youth will be placed prior to adjudication. There are three options for pre-adjudication placement:

  1. Community release, in which the youth resides with an approved guardian and is monitored by CSS;
  2. A detention alternative, such as a shelter home; or
  3. Secure detention at YSC. If a youth is aged 15 to 17 and charged with certain violent crimes, OAG may transfer the case to the adult system.

Adjudication and Disposition

If a youth is found involved in a delinquent act, either through a plea or Court ruling, there is a hearing to determine the youth’s disposition. For the period between adjudication and disposition, the Court can place the youth on community release, in a shelter facility, or at YSC. At the dispositional hearing, the Court will determine whether the youth should be placed on probation with CSS or committed to DYRS custody. This decision is informed by a pre-disposition report prepared by CSS, which includes an assessment of the youth’s emotional, social, educational, and delinquency history and recommends a plan for treatment and disposition. If CSS plans to recommend the youth for commitment with DYRS, then DYRS will also submit a pre-disposition report that outlines the youth’s supervision and treatment needs.

A DYRS commitment can be for a specific or indeterminate period of time, so long as the commitment does not exceed the youth’s twenty-first birthday. The Court can require that DYRS obtain approval prior to ending the youth’s commitment, or it can grant DYRS authority to end the commitment when the agency deems appropriate.

DYRS Placement Process

Once a youth is committed to DYRS, the agency is responsible for all decisions regarding the youth’s placement and rehabilitation plans. This determination involves the following process:

  • Review of Court Recommendations: When making placement decisions, DYRS gives great weight to the Court’s recommended plans for treatment and supervision.
  • Review of Reports and Assessments: DYRS staff reviews disposition reports, social studies prepared by CSS, psychological and psychiatric evaluations, psycho-educational evaluations, and discharge summaries from other programs and placements.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Needs Assessments: For youth placed at YSC and New Beginnings, DYRS staff, including licensed clinicians and behavioral health specialists, conduct mental health and substance abuse needs assessments such as the Child and Adolescent Service Intensity Instrument (CASII), the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument (MAYSI), the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC), and the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI).
  • Risk Assessments: DYRS conducts risk assessments using the Structured Decision Making (SDM) tool. SDM takes into account various factors, including offense severity, number and type of prior adjudications, number of out-of-home placements, school discipline/attendance, substance abuse issues, and peer relationships. The outcome of the SDM risk assessment guides the level of restrictiveness in which the youth will receive services.
  • Youth Family Team Meetings: DYRS convenes Youth Family Team Meetings (YFTMs) to help develop placement and service plans tailored to each youth’s strengths and needs. In addition to DYRS staff and providers, participants in the YFTMs may include parents, family members, mentors, teachers, and other individuals who are involved in the youth’s life.

Reentry Process

While committed to DYRS, youth who have been removed from the community receive services aimed at preparing them for successful community reentry. These services can include individual and family counseling, educational programs, vocational and employment training, substance abuse monitoring and counseling, independent living-skills training, home assessments, tutoring, mentoring, recreational activities, job placements, and ongoing YFTMs. When placed in the community, committed youth are monitored by DYRS staff and service providers, and some youth also wear electronic monitoring (GPS) devices.