The Colbert Report

A few weeks back I pointed out that 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.”

Now Richard Mendel, an independent writer and researcher who covers national developments in youth crime, has written a long refutation of King’s series (you can read King’s backlog here, and read up on Schiraldi’s impressive bio here). It was published in the Legal Times yesterday. The website is subscription-only, but registration is free. Here’s a link to the piece, and here’s a taste:

Few things in life are more refreshing than watching a seasoned, principled, persuasive journalistic lion set his sights on a troubled bureaucracy, uncover a slew of eye-opening anecdotes and disturbing data, and demand answers.

At least nine times since Oct. 6, The Washington Post’s Pulitzer-prize winning columnist Colbert King has focused his weekly column on the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and lambasted the agency for focusing more on protecting kids’ liberties than on ensuring safety for the public — or the kids themselves.

King’s concern is commendable, and his series of commentaries would be a great public service … except for one thing. He has gotten the bigger story about D.C. youth corrections wrong. Deeply, dangerously, counter-productively wrong.

Time and again, King has fixated on isolated errors and tragedies — setbacks that are unsurprising, even inevitable, in any big-city system working with behaviorally troubled youth. Meanwhile, the real story goes unreported: There is overwhelming evidence that the District’s long-troubled juvenile justice system is, at long last, improving.

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