Vera Releases Process Evaluation Report on Secure Juvenile Placement Reform in Washington, DC

NEW YORK – A report released today by the Vera Institute’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) sheds light on the process the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS)—the agency responsible for all detained and committed youth in the District of Columbia—used to radically change its approach to juvenile justice.

Capital Change: A Process Evaluation of Washington, DC’s Secure Juvenile Placement Reform suggests that despite formidable obstacles to remaking the District’s violence-plagued and punitive secure placement system for youth convicted of crimes, DYRS made significant progress rethinking and rebuilding its operations during the five and a half years from the reforms’ inception in 2005 to the middle of 2010.

Vera researchers, led by the report’s author, CYJ’s associate research director Reagan Daly, saw the DC reform effort as a rare opportunity to examine how a juvenile justice reform process is conceived. “The District of Columbia’s effort, which drew largely from the Missouri Model, a therapeutic approach that has been in place in Missouri since the 1980s, is one of only a few adaptations of that state’s system,” Daly says.

They also examined how DYRS implemented the plan design. Researchers consulted agency documentation as well as conducted interviews and focus groups with DYRS leaders; managers and staff at the District of Columbia’s secure placement facility New Beginnings Youth Development Center, and its school, the Maya Angelou Academy; trainers from the Missouri Youth Services Institute (MYSI) who served as consultants throughout the reform process; and judges from the DC Family Court.

Based on study findings, the CYJ report recommends a number of steps that DYRS can take to build on and enhance its initial reform work, including providing line staff with enhanced and more frequent training in therapeutic methods that are the hallmarks of the new model; ensuring that the residential units at New Beginnings adhere to DYRS’s original design of separating youth in placement from those awaiting placement; and establishing a system of documenting policy and operational decisions that would ensure institutional continuity and transmission of the model to new leadership and staff.

Annie Salsich, CYJ’s director, stresses that while the report does not measure outcomes of the reform, it does lay a foundation for future work in transforming juvenile justice systems. 

“By objectively analyzing the District’s reform process and identifying the successes and challenges it faced, Vera’s research can help guide the District and other jurisdictions in their juvenile justice reform efforts.”

The Vera Institute of Justice combines expertise in research, demonstration projects, and technical assistance to help leaders in government and civil society improve the systems people rely on for justice and safety.