The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL
The Lorton Youth Center and the D.C. Board of Parole, while finding defendant Alsbrook amenable to rehabilitative treatment under the Federal Youth Corrections Act,
recommended that he be sentenced as an adult on the ground that "meaningful treatment cannot be provided due to overcrowding and inadequate facilities." Because of this development and other recent indications that there has been a local breakdown in the administration of the Youth Corrections Act, this Court noticed an ancillary factfinding hearing in aid of sentencing which was held on November 19.
For reasons set out below, the Court has concluded that immediate steps must be taken both by correction authorities and the Court so that the Court's sentencing functions can be carried out in this jurisdiction in a manner consistent with the Act and implementing decisions of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The Youth Corrections Act was originally enacted in 1950. Later, in 1952, Congress provided that D.C. Code youth offenders would also be eligible for Youth Act commitment. The Act was amended accordingly and funds were subsequently provided for the present Youth facility situated at Lorton, Virginia.
The Act represents a humane and deliberate effort to assist young offenders by coupling an adequate degree of punishment with supervised treatment in the hope of salvaging many among the increasing number of young adult offenders involved in serious criminal conduct. Similar institutions have been created by some states and many of these programs have, generally speaking, been quite successful. The basic theory of the Act is rehabilitative, a consideration to be given priority unless the sentencing judge is convinced a youth is incorrigible and unable to derive help from the program as provided.
Two types of commitments are available under the Act: a 5010(b) commitment which involves an indeterminate sentence up to six years; and a 5010(c) commitment which involves an indeterminate sentence for a greater number of years as may be specified by the sentencing judge. It is also provided in 5010(e) that an offender may be committed preliminarily for a period of approximately 60 days for the purpose of obtaining a full background report indicating the amenability of the offender to the Youth program in view of his needs and the type and degree of supervision required. Following such study, the Court may impose sentence on the basis of the study report and other information available.
Here in the District of Columbia, many young felony offenders eligible under the Youth Corrections Act have been committed by the United States District Court to the Lorton Youth Center. Judges have made frequent use of the 5010(e) type of preliminary study in order to aid in imposing the ultimate sentence. For reasons that will appear, the Court is not receiving the type of thorough, knowledgeable report which the Court requires to exercise its responsibilities under the Act. Yet in recent months the necessity of an adequate 5010(e) study preliminary to final commitment has become more apparent in view of the decision of the United States Court of Appeals in Waters which requires the sentencing judge to enunciate affirmatively on the record his reasons for believing rehabilitation is not feasible under the Act in any instance where an otherwise eligible youthful offender receives an adult commitment. This usually involves a specified minimum and maximum term at an adult prison.
The Youth Center at Lorton, constructed in 1966, was designed for a capacity of 300 inmates. Single dormitory rooms are provided. The complex has minimal vocational, educational and therapeutic accommodations geared to a 300-inmate capacity as designed. A special unit was constructed at the Center to accommodate individuals committed preliminarily for purposes of a 5010(e) study.
Because of the rising incidence of crime among young adults, more effective law enforcement, and other factors, this Lorton Youth facility is now completely inadequate to handle commitments by the United States District Court under the Act. This would still be the case even if the heavy commitments to the facility from the Superior Court of felony and misdemeanor offenders were totally ignored.
The special unit at the Center designed for 5010(e) studies has been used to house offenders finally committed under the Act and as a result there are 85 in this unit originally built for 40. The authorities are, against their better judgment, utilizing the D.C. Jail for study purposes in most instances where offenders are initially committed for study under 5010(e). At present, there are 133 defendants undergoing 5010(e) studies at the Jail. Correction authorities generally acknowledged that when such studies are conducted at the Jail they are inadequate, inappropriate and undesirable,
and the Court finds that the Jail is not an "appropriate classification center or agency" under 5010(e). This situation is caused solely by the seriously overcrowded conditions at the Lorton Youth Center.
The Mayor-Commissioner advised the Court at the hearing that the Center will refuse to accept more than 350, a number well below current census. This is a frank recognition that the facility cannot now or in the future meet the requirements of the Courts in this community under the Act.
Since September, 1971, 43 defendants believed to be amenable to rehabilitation have, like Alsbrook, been recommended for adult incarceration due entirely to overcrowding and indeed there have been 64 offenders in this category since the first of January. When the authorities limit the level at the Center to 350, a substantially greater number will have to be regularly recommended for adult commitment. There is no legal authority for diverting otherwise eligible youths to adult institutions due solely to lack of space.