ERN DC Testimony on the Redefinition of Child Amendment Act
October 7, 2021
Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety Hearing:
“B24-0338 – Redefinition of Child Amendment Act of 2021”
Education Reform Now DC
Good morning Chairperson Allen and members of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. My name is Jess Giles. I am a Ward 7 resident and the State Director of Education Reform Now DC (ERN DC). ERN DC is a non-profit organization that fights for just and equitable opportunities for every student in DC.
I am pleased to offer testimony in support of Bill 24-0338, the Redefinition of Child Amendment Act of 2021. The District’s current policy of allowing the United States Attorney’s Office to directly file accusations against children in adult criminal court is unjust and inequitable. It perpetuates implicit bias and racism, which harms Black and Brown children and robs them of their future.
Black children are more likely to be perceived as less innocent and as adults. In 2014, the American Psychological Association published a report that found Black boys are seen as older and less innocent than their White same-age peers.  Their research also suggests that in some cases “Black children may be viewed as adults as soon as 13 years of age, with average age overestimations of Black children exceeding four and a half years.” These perceptions have real consequences for Black children. Almost 100% of children who are arrested are Black; and 100% of children who are charged and convicted as adults are Black.
When children are subject to juvenile delinquency proceedings in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Family Court Social Services Division (Family Court) due to allegations of law violations, they have access to a more rehabilitative and appropriate path. The focus of family court is in the child’s best interest. It is and should be entirely about the rehabilitation process, which is the developmentally responsive setting that children should be in. Family court conducts youth and family assessments, including Family Group Conferences. It provides home, school, and community assessments in order to develop a decision around providing comprehensive probation services, supervision plans, and alternatives to detention. Furthermore, Family court provides children with education advocates to represent their best interests in education.
When children are subjected to Adult Criminal Court, it is more about punishment or deterrence – not the child’s best interest. Once a child turns 18 years of age, they are sent to federal prisons all across the country that are managed by the Bureau of Prison (BOP). They lose the opportunity to continue their education. BOP does not provide youth with a means of obtaining a high school diploma, and even if by some miracle they do enroll in a General Educational Development (GED) program, incarcerated youth with disabilities, which represents the overwhelming majority of youth who are incarcerated, do not receive specialized support to help them complete their program.
For these reasons and more, we urge the D.C. Council to pass B24-0338 to redefine the word “child” to ensure that all cases involving children who are accused of criminal code violations begin in the developmentally responsive setting of Family Court.
Thank you for allowing me to testify on the importance of this bill.
 2014. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children.” p. 526 https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-a0035663.pdf
 Ibid p. 541
November 19, 2021
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