Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Work of Youth Organizers Ignored in Washington Post Article on Death at Oak Hill
Whats up, this is LaKeisha (age 18) and Aqiyla (age 16). Last school year we worked as part of the Justice for DC Youth Coalition on an organizing campaign to close
Oak Hill, DC's juvenile detention facility.

With much hard work, we won the fight for our cause and the Mayor and DC City Council agreed to close Oak Hill, a disgusting, poorly managed prison for youth, in 4 years and open smaller rehabilitation centers for youth that meet national standards, which basically means that they would actually help the youth who are there.

We had to organize to make this happen because even though DC Council spent a lot of money to put together the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Safety and Junenile Justice and put out this report that said pretty much exactly what needed to be fixed, they didn't do anything about it. If you don't feel like reading the whole report, you can just check out the conclusion.

Recently there was a fight at Oak Hill, the day before Thanksgiving and Karl Grimes (age 18) hit his head on a windowsill. He was taken to Prince Georges Hospital Center where at first he seemed okay but then he began to slur his speech and became unconscious again, and he was consequently put on life support. On Sunday at about six o’clock, Karl's family decided to take him off life support.

Karl Grimes was at Oak Hill for violating parole because of a school fight.

Do adults not care for young people’s safety, as if seeing them already as criminals, so why should we care about what happens to them? They say that youth are irresponsible, but this recent event in Oak Hill's history shows the lack of judgment on adults' behalf. Events like these clearly show that this facility is not fit to stay open and there clearly is not the proper supervision that is needed make sure the youth there are safe.

Also, the Mayor and DC Council received all the credit in the Washington Post article about this for 'agreeing to close Oak Hill', that should belong to the youth who worked hard and brought attention to the terrible conditions of the juvenile facility.

Also so you all know the Justice for DC Youth Coalition is still organizing around this trying to make sure the City sticks to what they agreed too. This is an excerpt from a letter that we and other members of the Justice for DC Youth Coalition sent recently.

November 3, 2005

The Honorable Adrian Fenty
Chair of the Human Services Committee
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. Chairman,

We are writing as members and allies of the Justice 4 DC Youth Coalition -- a group of concerned citizens that includes youth, youth service providers, parents, advocates, members of the faith community, educators and other community members working together for a fairer and more effective youth justice system in the District.

The Justice 4 DC Youth Coalition has been calling for the closure of the Oak Hill facility for the past 5 years. Oak Hill is an inhumane institution and has been the subject of a lawsuit for the past two decades over poor conditions, inadequate services and lack of effective programming for youth. Oak Hill represents a failed approach to juvenile crime. It has failed our youth and it has failed the public. And it is past time for it to be closed.

DC's youth cannot afford a 'business as usual' approach to this plan. Oak Hill has been the subject of litigation for 20 years and it must be closed as soon as possible. How many children have been cycled through that institution in the twenty years it has been the subject of litigation? How many more youth will have to suffer until Oak Hill is closed? It is difficult to undo in just 10 short months, the ineffectual leadership, abysmal conditions and neglect over the past twenty years. But we cannot go backwards. We cannot stop the reform effort. We must give the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services our full support to put the plans into place that we have been calling on the Mayor to implement for nearly 5 years. We fully support the new leadership at DYRS and their implementation plan for the closure of the Oak Hill facility and believe that the reform effort should move forward as quickly as possible.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Youth Action Research Group


Anonymous Adrian Fenty said...

There should be no question that the advocacy of the Justice for DC Youth Coalition played a critical role in winning Council support for making major improvements to the District's juvenile justice system. In late 2003, after it became clear that the excellent work of the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Commission was on the verge of being ignored, I introduced a bill based on the Commission's recommendations. Several provisions of this bill, including the one establishing a deadline for the closure of Oak Hill, were included in the omnibus juvenile justice bill enacted into law last year. Since then, the District has elevated the juvenile justice agency to a cabinet-level department and appointed a first-rate director to push for reforms. Recent tragedies involving the deaths of children involved with the juvenile justice system only underscore the importance of closing Oak Hill as quickly as possible and adopting effective rehabilitation-based practices that have proved successful in other states.

If you would like more information, please call my office at (202) 724-8052 or email William Singer on my staff at

December 05, 2005 12:47 PM  
Anonymous Ann said...

Aqiyla, Jose, Denisse & LaKeisha -

I couldn't agree with you more. DC youth, youth organizers & allies were at the front of this fight - not the mayor & council!! Given all the negative portrayals of youth of color in the media, it's critical to give credit where due. Thanks for setting the record straight.

Big love from YEA / siempre pa'lante!

December 12, 2005 5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your doing this. Karl Grimes was like my lil big brother. We grew up together and even after a year of his death it still hurts. God Bless and thank you again

November 30, 2006 11:17 PM  

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