As some Juvienation readers may know, those in DC in particular, Washington Post columnist Colbert King has been on a bizarrely impassioned tear in recent months, attacking the DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and its head, Vincent Schiraldi, a nationally renowned expert on juvenile justice reform who founded the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and was until recently the head of the Justice Policy Institute. (You can read King’s backlog here, and read up on Schiraldi’s impressive bio here.)
On Saturday, Liz Ryan, head of the DC-based Campaign for Youth Justice, fired back. Here is her supercharged salvo, which ran as a letter to the editor:
Colbert I. King’s zeal on behalf of the District’s children is admirable, but his myopic focus on a few tragic happenings at the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) is not the most effective way to assist reform efforts.
The agency’s staff has spent the past three years trying to rebuild a department plagued for years by scandals even more piercing than those highlighted in King’s recent columns. The DYRS has sought to work with other justice system stakeholders in implementing the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and has been successful in reducing the number of juveniles detained for serious crimes by one-third. Juvenile arrest rates have also declined by 15 percent, and of the more than 2,000 youths diverted in the first two years of the initiative, 92 percent have complied with program guidelines and have not been rearrested.
What is needed now is patience. Reforming a large, troubled agency takes more than good intentions; it takes time. Colbert King can continue to criticize the DYRS for its efforts and ignore the positive changes that have taken place, or he can use his investigative skills and passion constructively by providing meaningful suggestions to help the agency move forward.
— Liz Ryan
The writer is president and chief executive of the Campaign for Youth Justice.