A new proposal by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine would change the way some juveniles are charged in adult courts, with the hope of increasing public safety and a young person’s chances of being rehabilitated.
If passed by D.C. Council, Racine’s Redefinition of Child Amendment Act would require that all adult crimes, including murder, would start in family court.
Currently, federal prosecutors with D.C.’s United States Attorney’s Office are able to charge 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, without a judge’s input.
“Under this proposal, cases involving young offenders could still be moved to adult court if a judge determines that the juvenile system cannot successfully rehabilitate a child and transfer is necessary to protect public safety,” according to a statement from Racine’s office.
“Children should be treated as children,” Racine said. “When young people cause harm, we can hold them accountable for their actions and, importantly, provide them with the support they need to make better decisions in the future.”
In the District, the U.S. Attorneys Office prosecutes most adult crimes in adult court, while the Office of the Attorney General prosecutes some minor adult crimes and the majority of juvenile crimes.
Racine said his bill would increase the chances of a young person being rehabilitated, since the juvenile justice system is focused on providing services, including therapy, anger management, addiction treatment and educational opportunities.
In addition, it would reflect modern science that says children’s brains are not fully developed, leading them to be impulsive. Recent Supreme Court rulings have agreed that a child’s age should be considered in meting punishment.
Also, Racine said the bill would reduce racial inequities, citing research that Black children are 18 times more likely than white children to be sentenced as adults.
“We have the chance to make a small change to District law that will improve public safety, reduce victimization, increase fairness and make a big difference in the lives of children,” Racine said.
WTOP is seeking comment from D.C.’s U.S. Attorney’s Office.