By Patrick Madden
D.C.'s juvenile justice system has come under scrutiny after several violent incidents involving young offenders. D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Lee Satterfield says the courts need more authority to sentence young offenders. As he explains, juvenile cases are different from adult trials. For one, there is no jury.
"We hear the case. We hear from the victims. We do studies on the juvenile offender and we are in a good position to make decisions about safety of the juvenile offender and the safety of the community," says Satterfield.
Except that "those decisions" are made by the city. A 2003 ruling stripped judges in the District of any authority over young offenders once they are committed to detention.
"It's definitely out of our hands," he says. "We recommend the youth be committed, it's the decision of the city whether or not they go to a secure facility or to some residential placement or back into the community and go home."
Marc Schindler, director of D.C.'s Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services, says his agency listens to the judges.
"But there are a number of cases where not everyone is going to agree and under the law we are tasked with making that decision," says Schindler.
But the chief judge says letting the courts have some say in these cases makes "common sense."
"Youth need to know that if it's the judge or if it's the family setting, it's the parent, that that person can hold you accountable," says Satterfield.