Part 1: A city program's deadly failures
In early 2010, the District of Columbia launched what many people called a revolutionary new program for troubled teens. It tries to reform some of the most violent and dangerous kids that live in the community. Dubbed DC YouthLink, officials consider it critical to public safety.
The program grew out of a wave in juvenile justice reform that began out west. Based solidly in research, it incarcerates youths only as a last resort – if they are deemed a threat to others or themselves. This model instead relies largely on therapies like mentoring and tutoring. For instance, just 15 percent of participants in Milwaukee reoffend.
There, some call it a miracle. Here, it has fallen victim to mismanagement and abuse.
Our investigation uncovered millions of dollars paid to providers that have delivered substandard services, or not adequately documented work. The funds were awarded through an entirely noncompetitive process, with decisions made unilaterally, without contracts.
It happened under a regulatory mishmash, where four bodies provided oversight but limited accountability. All the while, vulnerable city wards struggled without care, losing their own lives, and taking those of others.
Over eight months, we conducted dozens of interviews with service providers, government employees, parents, and youths. We obtained confidential emails, youth rosters, invoices, inspection reports, tax returns, and spending data. Together, they paint a troubling picture not just for the youths, but for public safety.
A third of the program’s participants were rearrested while still enrolled, over just half of last year. From 2010 to 2011, 15 were charged with murder and 15 more were killed.
Moreover, of the more than 750 youths served by the program since its launch in early 2010, the city can only point to 13 that have graduated from high school.
Some argue that no one could have really been expected to turn these kids around. Similar programs elsewhere though, have shown results. And in many ways, DC YouthLink has fallen short of even the most modest of expectations.
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