On each and every day of the year (excluding Sundays), children are presented for an initial hearing in the Family Division, Juvenile Branch of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Because of unusually broad and often misapplied preventive detention laws, children charged with property offenses such as theft, or status offenses such as truancy and ungovernability, are subject to detention for an indefinite period of time through summary procedures which do not adequately ensure the reliability of the detention decision. Because the detention of juveniles has become routine in superior court, its potential harm to the child is often easy to ignore. The child is deprived of liberty and of the home and family support system he or she has known. The injurious consequences of this confinement, such as stigmatization, negative self-labeling, and institutionalization have been well noted. In addition, detention increases the likelihood that the child will be committed if found delinquent. Given these grave consequences, detention should be used sparingly, and imposed through procedures which ensure the decision to detain will be a considered and reliable one. This article will examine the District of Columbia preventive detention statute and its application to the children appearing in Juvenile Court. Intended as an aid to counsel practicing in Juvenile Court, this article will describe the operation of the preventive detention law, highlight important issues in the detention process, and consider the viability of constitutional attacks upon the statute.
Paul Holland et al.,
Juvenile Detention Law in the District of Columbia: A Practitioner’s Guide, 3 D.C. L. REV. 281