Contact: Paul Ashton
Phone: (202) 765-2445
Email: [email protected]


After Years of Neglect, Washington, DC Leaders Must Implement a Comprehensive Strategy for Emerging Adults (ages 18-24)


(Washington, DC – May 21, 2024) — Today, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), in collaboration with StrategyForward Advisors, releases a new report, Building a Brighter Future: A Plan to Invest in DC’s Emerging Adults. While this comprehensive action plan underscores the critical need for Washington, DC to prioritize fully implementing the 2020-2025 Youth Rehabilitation Act (YRA) Strategic Plan, it is applicable nationwide. With a focus on trauma-informed, healing-centered services and developing a community-based care system for emerging adults (18-to-24-year-olds), the report aims to foster safer neighborhoods and enable emerging adults to thrive and contribute positively to their communities.

“Elected officials across the country have to invest in the holistic well-being of all emerging adults, including those who are system-impacted,” said Jasmine Tyler, Executive Director of the Justice Policy Institute. “Targeted investments like the ones outlined in our report are a moral imperative and the best strategic approach for ensuring safer and more resilient communities for all Washingtonians. It’s past time for Mayor Bowser and the DC Council to support young adults fully instead of demonizing and alienating them.”

The action plan outlines six critically urgent priorities:

  1. Create an Office of Emerging Adult Services.
  2. Invest in Credible Messengers and Violence Interrupters.
  3. Provide safe and stable housing.
  4. Build education and workforce pathways.
  5. Offer robust diversion and restorative justice options.
  6. Invest in supportive services for families, communities, and health.

Each priority includes Washington, DC data, model program examples, and specific action steps for elected officials. Quotes from system-impacted emerging adults in DC provide insight into their lived experiences, aspirations, and hopes for the future. Building a Brighter Future highlights the inefficacy of reactive, punitive measures in addressing the root causes of crime. Investing in rehabilitation, as advocated by the YRA Strategic Plan, not only provides immediate benefits to young adults through supportive services such as job training and housing but also enhances long-term community safety. By addressing the underlying factors contributing to criminal behavior — such as trauma, lack of support structures, and limited opportunities — the action plan offers a proactive approach that aligns with the District’s equity, rehabilitation, and safety goals.

“System-impacted emerging adults in DC are eager to get their life on track. They have goals and aspirations. They have families to care for and they crave safety and stability,” notes Dr. Julie Johnson, founder and principal of StrategyForward Advisors. “However, there are many barriers to achieving their goals, from the peer pressure of the streets to basic housing needs to the lack of structured pathways to help them move beyond their current spot. Building a Brighter Future offers District leaders a way to invest in this critical population to help them achieve their fullest potential and in so doing, strengthen their communities.”

Key recommendations from the report include establishing an Office of Emerging Adult Services (OEAS) and appointing a dedicated director to oversee these efforts. Though it was included in the recently passed Secure DC omnibus bill, the OEAS provision was omitted from Mayor Bower’s proposed budget. This continued failure to comply with legislative directives related to this age group — the latest in a series — by the Bowser Administration to invest in evidence-based, preventative interventions compromises crime prevention and community strengthening efforts.

System-impacted emerging adults represent nearly 20 percent of the District’s criminal legal system, yet they lack dedicated support structures or coordination across agencies. The OEAS would serve as a centralized hub for funding, expertise, advocacy, and coordination across agencies, ensuring a holistic approach to addressing their needs.

Desmond Barr, an Emerging Adult Fellow with the Justice Policy Institute and someone who has navigated the system firsthand, emphasized the urgency of these measures: “I have been involved in the system, and I know young adults like me need guidance and mentors to help us make the transition into adulthood. I am alarmed at the lack of supports and services that meet the needs of my peers. That’s the only way to ensure that every young adult has the opportunity to reach their full potential.”


The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is a national research and policy advocacy organization that partners with communities affected by crime and the criminal legal system to build better safety solutions.