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Police and D.C. residents often complain that juveniles arrested for crimes are usually back on the streets the next day — leading to a belief that juvenile offenders are rarely punished. Even the families of juvenile offenders say the D.C. juvenile justice system is too confusing and secretive. That’s because there is little to no public information available on how the system operates. The Council for Court Excellence is hoping to change that. This month the nonprofit group began a yearlong study of the system as part of its five-year plan to help reform it. The project — funded by a $50,000 grant from the Alexandria, Va.-based State Justice Institute and a $2,000 grant from the Women’s Bar Association Foundation — is being headed by former D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti, who describes the current system as “utterly bewildering.” Spagnoletti says, “By necessity, the thousands of youth and their families who enter the juvenile justice system must rely on information gained in a haphazard, piecemeal fashion and often by word-of-mouth — and the information they get is not necessarily correct.” The council will work with the D.C. Superior Court’s Family Court and the D.C. Public Defender Service. June Kress, executive director of the Council for Court Excellence, says her group will publish a community guide describing what happens and who is involved from the time a juvenile is arrested until he or she exits the system.
Osita Iroegbu can be contacted at [email protected].

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