Testimony of Kimberly Perry Executive Director before the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety

October 7, 2021
Person Testifying: Kimberly Perry
Title: Executive Director, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
Type of Hearing: Hearing on the Redefinition of Child Amendment Act of 2021

Good morning, Councilmember Allen and members of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. I’m Kimberly Perry, Executive Director of DC Action, the District’s independent, multi-issue child and youth advocacy organization working to close racial gaps in education, health, and economic well-being. We’re building power by engaging people– youth, families, businesses, organizations, and educators, particularly those most affected by discriminatory policies and practices. I’m here to express strong support for the Redefinition of the Child Amendment Act of 2021 introduced to the DC Council by Attorney General Karl Racine.

In our vision that children and youth in the District grow up safe, resilient, powerful, and heard–and reach their full potential–DC Action is committed to the principle of restorative justice for young people. We recognize that the recent increase in crime is the result of systems that fail our communities most in need and that require immediate and long-term solutions. The pandemic has caused significant trauma to children and youth, who have seen their families’ financial stability upended, experienced loss and grief, and been forced into social isolation. The structures, opportunities, and supports that typically keep young people safe, healthy, and thriving have been eroded and undermined. It will take time and new investments to build back better.

We do not believe a young person’s worst action should define who they are or eliminate their opportunities for growth. As we work together on solutions to the rise in crime and violence, and a broader vision of restorative justice, we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past, seeking retribution and incarceration, when we need healing and justice.

One small step we can take to reform our criminal justice system is to ensure children and youth who are charged with crimes are treated by the judicial system as children and youth, not adults. Young people who make mistakes should not be charged as adults, a process which only results in harsher and longer penalties, and does not promote a vision for restorative justice. We’ve seen that almost all children charged as adults in court (94%) are Black, which reflects a culture of white supremacy that denies Black children their rights and seeks the harshest, and least forgiving, penalties.

The consequences of continuing to charge children as adults will feed a broken system. For instance, charging a child as an adult denies them the legal confidentiality that a minor is entitled to and has the harmful effect of exposing their history of trauma to the public. Maybe worse, it denies them basic rights and opportunities once they are convicted that every policymaker says they support when it comes to addressing root causes.

Children who are convicted of felony offenses in adult court are often shipped around the country through the Bureau of Prisons federal system, breaking community and family bonds, making it more difficult for them to return home. They are also unable to obtain a high school diploma and greater challenges when seeking a GED.

Changing the way we work with children charged with crimes is an important step toward reforming our criminal justice system.