D.C. Mayor’s Bill Would Target Truancy, Mandate Aggressive Prosecution

WASHINGTON POST: The District’s deputy mayor for public safety and justice said she was “okay” if the bill meant more kids would be locked behind bars.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) unveiled legislation Wednesday that would require the Office of the Attorney General in D.C. to more aggressively prosecute children and teens who commit crimes and increase its enforcement of parents in truancy cases — her most sweeping effort to date to address what local leaders have called a crisis among young people in the District.

The bill also would restrict prosecutors from using plea agreements in violent cases involving younger people and would make youths charged with weapons offenses ineligible for diversion programs. The District’s deputy mayor for public safety and justice said she was “okay” if the bill meant more kids would be locked behind bars.

“If it increases commitment, we’re okay with that,” Lindsey Appiah, the deputy mayor, said of the bill Tuesday. “We’re committed to ensuring that our kids get the right services supports to make them and the community safe.”The mayor’s bill would also impose harsher punishments for middle-schoolers who bring drugs or weapons to schools, create an alternative school for students with severe behavioral problems and modify the referral process for children with poor attendance. Bowser pitched the legislation as she unveiled her long-awaited $21 billion budget for the next fiscal year.

The proposal comes after months of pressure for elected officials to address two separate issues hurting children and teens in the District: an increase in violence and alarmingly high truancy rates.

Local leaders have been careful not to link the two issues, as most kids who miss school are not committing crimes. But Bowser and members of the D.C. Council have said that increasing school attendance is a necessary part of keeping children safe and out of trouble.

Last year in D.C., 37 percent of students — and 47 percent of high-schoolers — were truant, meaning they had missed at least 10 full days of school without a formal excuse. Overall, 43 percent of students were chronically absent, which includes excused and unexcused absences, for at least 10 percent of the school year, or about 18 days. Those figures are improvements from the 2021-22 school year, but still higher than pre-pandemic attendance levels, mirroring patterns nationwide as schools struggle to get students in the habit of attending every day.

Meanwhile, 106 children and teens were shot in 2023, 16 of them fatally. Two other youths were fatally beaten and another was fatally stabbed. More youths were also accused of pulling triggers last year than in the previous one.


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