Monitoring the District’s troubled youth
Theresa Vargas, Washington Post | March 5, 2011

Joseph Mitchell parallel parks his Ford Explorer in the Huntwood area of Northeast Washington, leaving enough room to pull out quickly – “a little safety thing I do,” he says – and walks under a night sky toward an apartment building hidden from view.

He knocks on the first-floor door of a 15-year-old recently charged with assault with a dangerous weapon.

The teenager is joining about a dozen young offenders Mitchell monitors daily on behalf of the District’s juvenile justice system, supplementing the work of probation officers and social workers. Mitchell and other monitors – described as the eyes and ears of the system – visit the youngsters in school to make sure they’re in class, stop by their homes to make sure they’re in by curfew and sit in court with them to make sure they don’t feel alone. Seven days a week, at all hours, they walk through some of Washington’s roughest neighborhoods and into the lives of troubled youth others might cross the street to avoid.

They do this as part of a job that most people have no idea exists and that now faces competition from a little black box. The city, using a $400,000 grant, has launched a year-long pilot program expanding the use of Global Positioning System devices to monitor juveniles. The devices provide real-time tracking at a lower cost.

With 175 devices at their disposal, juvenile justice officials have until Sept. 30, when the pilot program ends, to weigh the benefits of computerized efficiency against those of human interactions, to ask, among other questions: What is lost when no one knocks on these youngsters’ doors every day? And what is that worth in a time of financial strain?  (Read more)