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D.C.'s Approach to Juvenile Justice Faces Criticism

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By Patrick Madden

After a series of violent incidents in D.C. involving young criminals, the city’s approach to juvenile justice is now facing criticism for being too lenient.

The New Beginnings Youth Center which opened last year in Laurel Maryland. Billed as the "anti-prison", the new facility sits on a sprawling 30-acre campus. From the outside it could double as an expensive private school, but on the inside security is tight.

And every Thursday night, Penelope Spain leads a group of volunteers through the metal detectors, she carries books and board games in a clear plastic book bag.

"It’s just one of the policies out here to make sure we are not bringing in any contraband," says Spain.

Spain is a co-founder of a group called Mentoring Today, which works with some of D.C.'s most dangerous young offenders. And her philosophy on juvenile justice mirrors the city’s.

“If you just keep kids locked up indefinitely for years and years on end, they are not learning any of the skills that are going to make them healthy individuals in the real community," she says.

“Eight months ago, I didn’t care about nobody, all I cared about was myself, I was selfish," says 18-year-old D.B.

He says he’s learned from his mentors how to control his anger and he’s also picked up a technical certification he hopes will land him a job.

“It makes me feel brand new again. Make me feel like I am out there,” he says.

How well the young men work with their mentors is a major factor in determining how long they’ll stay locked up. In the District, it’s the city’s youth services agency that says when a young offender is ready to return to the community. And it’s becoming a point of contention. That story tomorrow.

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