OAG Juvenile Justice Official Talks about Balancing Accountability and Rehabilitation

Julie Rupert, Assistant Chief of the Juvenile System, Office of the Attorney General, (OAG)

ANC6B Special Committee on Public Safety (file photo)

OAG Juvenile Justice Official Talks about Balancing Accountability and Rehabilitation

by Larry Janezich

Posted May 17, 2023

Monday night, Julie Rupert, Assistant Chief of the Juvenile System, Office of the Attorney General, (OAG) gave an overview of the Office of the Attorney General’s Juvenile Justice System to ANC6B’s Special Committee on Public Safety.

Some of the main takeaways:

  • There has been an increase in certain types of offenses by juveniles – car thefts, carjackings, gun possession and shootings., more now than pre-pandemic.  (“The media would have you believe there are much much more,” Rupert said.) 
  • Generally, OAG policy is they don’t charge youths under 13 but there are exceptions and some 12 year olds are charged if their behavior presents a significant danger or has occurred repeatedly and OAG believes the criminal justice system has to get involved – that there needs to be accountability and services put in place. 
  • It is hard to say what the causes are, but the pandemic left many youths unsupervised and in unstructured environments with neighborhood mentors instead of school-based mentors.
  • The OAG is processing fewer cases today than pre-pandemic because they are filtering out cases that don’t need to be in the juvenile justice system and are connecting youths with more pre-charging services.
  • Addressing the revolving door between the justice system and poor neighborhood environments will be an difficult expensive process.

The following is a summary of Ruperts remarks on the OAG and prosecution of delinquent juveniles which she made to ANC6B’s Committee.

The OAG Juvenile Justice System is similar to the adult criminal justice system but the activities, mechanics and procedures vary.   The juvenile system deals with those under the age of 18 who have committed crimes in DC.  Charges can only brought against youths under 18 – but supervision extends to an individual’s 21st birthday.   The Juvenile Division is focused on rehabilitation – driven by the belief that rehabilitation is the best way to reduce recidivism.   

Youths can either be arrested based on probable cause or by submission of a request to OAG which generally comes after an MPD investigation.  OAG reviews the facts and if it finds merit submits it to the court which decides if an arrest should be made. 

Once an arrest is made the individual is presented to the court within 24 hours.  The youth is on a lock up list and the OAG has to make a decision whether to charge the case in juvenile court. 

If the AG is considering charging the case, OAG has to decide if there is probable cause and whether the evidence supports proving a case beyond reasonable doubt.  If the evidence is deficient and OG can’t prove the charge, they would not prosecute and case ends there – unless it’s diverted.

If not charged, and the alleged offense is lower level, non-violent, and the alleged offender’s first time, OAG has the option of diversion:  referring the youth to a program of pretrial supervision with case workers similar to probation officers who connect youths to mental health assessment or other community-based services.  Participation is voluntary and the family agrees to take part in the diversionary program. 

At the Initial arraignment if the AG seeks pretrial detention OAG has to show probable cause at a hearing and needs to have a witness appear before an arraignment judge in Superior Court – a mini-trial.  The court hears what the individual is accused of and if the judge finds probable cause, the court can order detention or pre-trial placement.   In that case the government has to show significant risk to persons or property and no life restrictive needs.  Currently, there is a “least restricting or no detention presumption” for most offenses but a judge may order security detention.  Several years ago, the city council passed a law setting presumption in favor of detention for violent offenders. 

If OAG charges a case, it begins the life cycle of the Juvenile Justice System. 

The case can be resolved by a plea, a trial, or by different court programs.  The Juvenile Justice Diversion program addresses special needs and focuses on mental health services involving frequent appearances in court.  For example, the HOPE Court (Here Opportunities Prepare you for Excellence) is for victims of sex trafficking.  These options involve different tracking levels – youths can be sentenced with a plea, without a plea, or as a condition of post-sentencing. 

In Juvenile Court, sentencing is called disposition.  There are only two options for disposition:

  • Probation – community based supervision by the court’s social services division which handles both pre-trial and post-trial supervision. Probation can only be for a maximum of one year and a judge decides the conditions, and 
  • Commitment to the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and that can be for any period of time up to the person’s 21st It’s a common misperception that commitment means being sent to the juvenile detention center, but that is one of three options. 

Commitment can be to a DC government agency independent of the court which has legal custody and supervision, and the agency decides where the youth lives and goes to school and other conditions. 

Commitment can mean the youth remains at home or in a mid-level staff-secure group home with different kinds of treatment and services, and with ability to leave the building. 

The highest level of commitment involving someone who the court feels is a danger to the community or presents the danger of committing a violent offense or for a multiple offender or where other ways have already been,  is commitment to a secure facility in Laurel, MD.  Commitment is not for a length of time, but to a program which typically lasts nine months to a year. 

Community criminal justice advocate Anthony Petty with Neighbors for Justice, offered his insight regarding the need to relocate youths once they leave the structured environment of the rehabilitation system.  Petty says there are currently no relocation programs and youths don’t have lot options to place kids once they leave institutions.  He said, “They leave and just run wild and go back to the same environment and there’s a good chance kids go back doing same things they have always done.   Once youths in the system go home, the structure is not here and in the households they’ve been living in it’s very hard to change.  They speak about their safety – it’s their number one issue – and the only way they feel safe is to arm themselves.”

Rupert said that it takes a multi-prong approach involving education, housing, and jobs – a multi-system approach is needed to be successful in breaking the barriers to a successful transition. 

The Special Committee on Public Safety will meet next in mid-June and will discuss the Office of Unified Communications and the recent failure of the 911 System. 


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2 responses to “OAG Juvenile Justice Official Talks about Balancing Accountability and Rehabilitation

  1. Wendy

    This clear and careful report is upsetting because the OAG Juvenile Justice System lacks the complex, expensive services for young offenders after they have served their relatively short periods of “correction” or emotional support, or behavioral training. Thus, after many taxpayer dollars have been spent on excellent services now, it seems that the existing system is still a failure — because we cannot or will not budget money to finish the job. We’re still throwing a lot of money down the drain. Depressing.

  2. kandc

    Larry–Thanks for this exceptionally detailed description of the youth system. It is helpful to a lot of us for understanding how it operates.

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