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Prof. Matt Fraidin in Washington Post, Examiner

Wednesday, October 20, 2010   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joe Libertelli
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Prof. Matt Fraidin was quoted in The Washington Post and Washington Examiner newspapers on October 20, 2010 in opposition to a unanimously supported District Council bill that would allow members of the public more information on the identify of youthful offenders.  The articles appear below.

Washington Post article:

D.C. Council passes bill to identify violent juvenile offenders

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 19, 2010; 10:31 PM

Responding to a wave of high-profile District crimes involving juveniles, the D.C. Council approved sweeping legislation Monday that would allow the public to learn the names of violent criminals under age 18.

The bill, approved after months of internal debate among council members, undermines the long-standing practice of shielding the identities of youthful offenders who have not been charged as adults.

Under the legislation, which passed unanimously, complete juvenile records would still be sealed. But a juvenile's name and offense can be publicly released once that person has been convicted of a violent crime or a major property crime. Once a juvenile has been convicted, his or her personal information can be released for all subsequent arrests, even if there is no conviction for subsequent crimes.

The bill goes to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who has not signaled whether he will sign it.

Council members said that the law is needed to make it easier for police and youth and social service agencies to communicate with each other as they try to stem shootings and homicides involving juveniles. In several well-publicized cases, a juvenile has been arrested for new crimes after being released from the custody of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

"Our ultimate responsibility is to protect the public, and it cannot simply be to turn a blind eye to the free crime of violence," said council member David A. Catania (I-At Large). "Young people think they can act with impunity. They think there are no consequences."

Even after final approval of the bill on a voice vote, council members engaged in a heated debate about whether they were making it harder for youths to rehabilitate.

Council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) pushed for an amendment that would have allowed for the public release of a juvenile's identity only after convictions for two major crimes.

Wells, backed by council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), argued that the legislation would stigmatize a young offender for life, making it difficult to find a job or get accepted into college.

Wells cited statistics that show 94 percent of youth offenders live out the rest of their lives without being convicted of another crime. He also said he worried that teenagers arrested for relatively minor offense - such as throwing snowballs or kicking a rock at someone - could be susceptible to charges of assault with a deadly weapon and subsequently identified.

Wells's amendment was defeated by a vote of 9 to 4. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), the presumptive next mayor, joined the majority in voting down the amendment.

Although he preferred Wells's proposal, Mendelson said the bill as approved will make it easier for police to interact with residents about neighborhood crime.

"It means government officials . . . can't stand before a community group and say, 'I can't talk about that person,' " Mendelson said. "It's one of the things that happens now. Everyone knows Johnny . . . has a long conviction and arrest record, but they will not even admit who Johnny is."

But Matthew Fraidin, a professor at the School of Law at the University of the District of Columia, said the bill "demonizes kids" while continuing to shield the public from how the courts and DYRS oversee youth offenders.

"It's just pandering to the public without actually protecting and certainly without shining light on how DYRS is making its decisions," Fraidin said.

Washington Examiner Article:

D.C. Council seeks to name young, violent criminals

By: Freeman Klopott
Examiner Staff Writer
October 19, 2010

District youths convicted of a violent crime will now have basic criminal information released to the public if Mayor Adrian Fenty signs into a law a bill unanimously passed by the council.

City agencies that handle minors have long been able to hide behind a veil of secrecy, but council members said Tuesday upon passing the bill that the agencies charged with punishing the city's juveniles will now be held accountable. The bill was introduced to address a series of high-profile crimes that were allegedly committed by wards of the city's juvenile justice agency who had violent pasts. Communities informed of violent offenders in their midst could better protect themselves while also holding city officials accountable, the bill's architects say. Critics, however, say the bill could make it hard for young, one-time offenders to get jobs or go to college while shedding little light on city agencies.

"This is not so much about the juveniles being held accountable as it is about the government being held accountable because there's less secrecy to hide behind," Councilman Phil Mendelson, D-at large, told The Washington Examiner.

The bill centers around releasing to the public basic criminal background information -- name, charges at arrest, charges at conviction and sentencing -- if a juvenile is convicted of one violent crime. It also allows information to be more easily shared between the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, the D.C. police department, and other law enforcement and child care agencies. The legislation also allows city officials to release the names of violent offenders when they escape from jail so the public can be on the lookout.

On Tuesday, Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells introduced an amendment that would have required there be two violent crime convictions before a youth's criminal information is released. The amendment failed, but became the subject of a heated debate as council members sought to balance public safety against concerns for juveniles' futures.

"We're taking strong action today in rolling back confidentiality," Wells said. "It's a very strong statement to bring [the requirement] down to one conviction. If they commit one violent offense, forget about rehab ... it simply says, 'too late.' "

Ward 4 Councilwoman Muriel Bowser countered, saying leniency isn't the answer. "The public needs to be able to hold us accountable at every level," Bowser said. "The shield of accountability is protecting not just the children, but it's really protecting a failed system."

But that system won't be held more accountable by the bill, said Matt Fraidin, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia who focuses on child welfare issues.

"Now we'll have some information about a child that's not placed in any useful context and does not include any information that tells us how government agencies are performing," Fraidin said.

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