SURVIVING YOUR YOUTH (THE DISTRICT’S YOUTH REHABILITATION ACT)
The District’s Youth Rehabilitation Act (YRA) is achieving the goal of that which it was named after. Not only does the YRA actually focus on the rehabilitation of the youth through facilities, treatment and services as proposed by § 24-902, but the YRA is also helping prevent past mistakes committed in one’s youth from potentially harboring them for the rest of their life. The YRA aims to achieve making rehabilitation services in the district abundant enough that any given person could have access to a network of educational rehabilitation services that not only focus on a person’s behavioral, physical, and mental healthcare, but also focuses on workforce development to help our youth who may be struggling to have access to more resources to greater be able to positively impact society as a whole. The YRA also allows the court greater flexibility with regards to imposing a sentence on a person who was under the age of 25 years old when they committed a crime.
REHABILITATING THE YOUTH
In 1985, the Youth Rehabilitation Act was created in the District of Columbia. The YRA aims to provide sentencing alternatives to first time young adult offenders. The YRA gives arrested youth offenders charged with a crime the ability to have their case sealed after successfully completing the requirements mandated. This incentivizes the youth that has gone through the criminal justice system to continue their rehabilitation to have their case sealed off as promised. March Schindler, of the Washington Post has done an excellent job pointing to the success of the YRA with regards to the “R” for rehabilitation. Due to scientific research expressing that one’s brain is not fully formed until one is in their mid-20s, the council raised the age of eligibility of the YRA from being younger than 22 years old to being younger than 25 years old when the crime was committed.
Furthermore, the YRA imposes a duty on the mayor’s office to continually develop facilities as well as services for both treatment of the youth and possible prevention matters to ensure the youth in the district are put in the best position to make good decisions and succeed. While there is still much to be done to implement these services, the District is off to a good start as evidenced by the total crime-rate in D.C. has dropped each of the last three years.
If a defendant is under the age of 25 when his conviction is entered, he may petition the Court to consider him to be a “youth offender” and set aside his conviction upon successful completion of his sentence. The factors a judge at D.C. Superior Court needs to consider to determine his eligibility are as follows:
- The youth offender’s age at the time of the offense;
- The nature of the offense;
- Prior sentencing under the YRA;
- Compliance with rules of facility to which the defendant has been committed or with the terms of pretrial release;
- Participation in rehabilitative District programs;
- Previous contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems;
- Family and community circumstances at the time of the offense;
- Ability to appreciate the risks and consequences of his conduct;
- Reports of physical, mental, or psychiatric examinations;
- Use of controlled substances;
- Capacity for rehabilitation;
- Victim impact statement
After a judge considers all of these factors, the defendant may be treated as a youth offender under the YRA for purposes of sentencing. In addition to the sentence the judge imposes, the youth offender must complete 90 hours of community service. If the youth offender successfully completes his sentence and the community service with no violations, his case will be set aside, which means expunged from his record. The only time the case can be used against the youth offender is if he receives a subsequent arrest or conviction and it can be treated as a second offense.
Another important result due to the YRA is the idea of giving those who committed a crime in their youth a second chance. While § 24-903 gives courts more leeway in lessening their potential sentence for a youthful offender, § 24-906 then gives that offender the ability to set aside and seal the offender’s conviction ensuring that their youthful mistake will not prevent them from moving forward so long as they successfully complete the requirements mandated.
From a study taken from the years 2010-2012, 3,960 individuals who were eligible for a YRA sentence from 2010 – 2012 were convicted of a total of 8,416 offenses, and 774 (9.2%) of those offenses were subject to a mandatory minimum sentence. Offenses that carried a mandatory minimum were less likely to be sentenced under the YRA. Of the 2,384 persons who received a YRA sentence from 2010-2012, at the time of data collection (April 2017), 2,135 had completed their sentences and, therefore, were eligible to have their convictions set aside. Of those eligible persons, 976 (45.7%) had their convictions set aside
The Youth Rehabilitation Act still needs to make strides to achieve its ultimate goal, but in the meantime it has been successful in limiting the sentencing of those who are YRA eligible as well as setting aside convictions freeing youthful offenders to move forward without the legal system holding them back from making a positive contribution to society.