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‘Progressive Prosecutors’ in D.C. Focus on 'Restorative Justice' for Juvenile Offenders

dc attorney general karl racine press conference

WASHINGTON – D.C. Chief Deputy Attorney General Natalie Ludaway said all of the District of Columbia’s prosecutors consider themselves “progressive prosecutors.”

Ludaway’s comments were made during a recent discussion organized by George Washington University Law School titled, "The New Old Jim Crow: Policing Black Bodies in the Era of Mass Incarceration."

“In terms of prosecutors, and we consider ourselves progressive prosecutors, all of our prosecutors have been trained on unconscious bias so that they are looking at youths as youths,” she said at the Black Law Students Association and Association of Black Law Alumni Spring Conference at GW.

Ludaway said the district focuses on “restorative justice” for juveniles who commit crimes.

Using the example of a young person stealing someone’s smartphone, Ludaway touted the benefits of the district’s Alternatives to the Court Experience (ACE) Diversion Program.

Ludaway said the young person might be arrested for the crime and “generally held in lock-up, and then that morning our prosecutor goes through the list and really making very quick decisions of how that youth should be treated.”

“If the youth receives diversion, we work with a program called ACE diversion and ACE diversion, for $4,000, for that youth, $4,000 over a 6-month period, that youth, instead of entering the criminal justice system, will be given mentorships, mental health, monitoring in school; sometimes it means being able to go to activities, to museums,” she said.

According to Ludaway, the $4,000 diversion estimate compares to probation at $40,000 and confinement at $70,000.

“The ACE division program – 78 percent of youths have not been re-arrested since 2015,” she said.

The bipartisan Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2017 has been introduced in this session of Congress by Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.). The bill would “authorize the appropriation of about $1.6 billion over the 2018-2022 period for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to operate programs to reduce juvenile justice delinquency.”

During an interview after the discussion, Ludaway encouraged Congress to take a similar approach to young people as D.C. with its juvenile justice reform efforts.

“It should be a focus on restorative justice. It should be a focus on recognizing that we’re dealing with youths, that we’re dealing with youths who come from different backgrounds who haven’t had opportunities who need help,” she told PJM.

“As I said in the discussion, it’s really a public health crisis of where youths don’t have the right support, the right mental health therapy, the right opportunities, support in schools, just sometimes basic nutrition,” she added. “So we need to really know that when you may find a kid that takes a cell phone from someone there’s more behind that act.”

Ludaway was asked if there are areas of the district’s criminal justice system she would like to see Congress implement nationally. She mentioned a letter that D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine wrote to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.