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D.C. Nearing Approval Of Reform Making Criminal Code Less Punitive

Washington, D.C.'s Council plans to take the first of two votes Tuesday on a massive rewrite of the city's criminal code. It would eliminate most mandatory minimum sentences, allow for jury trials in almost all misdemeanor cases and reduce the maximum penalties for offenses such as burglaries, carjackings and robberies, says the Washington Post. While Mayor Muriel Bowser, Police Chief Robert. Contee and U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves agree with the majority of the revisions, critics say some proposals in the 450-page bill, the “Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022,” would have negative consequences, burdening a court system that is stretched thin, and reducing law enforcement’s ability to bring serious punishments for serious crimes.

“Does this enhance public safety, and does it make communities safer?” Contee asked. "Council members should really understand what we’re signing off on here.” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and public safety committee chair Charles Allen say the overhaul is a necessary one, fixing antiquated language in the law and imposing change that will make the justice system more equitable and less reliant on incarceration. “It’s outdated, it’s contradictory, it’s a mess, and after a 16-year-long process, we now have a revised criminal code in front of us,” Allen said. Much of the reform would take place over a three-year period to give the courts, police and other groups time to ensure officials are up to date on the changes. Criminal justice reform advocates have long argued that the system is too punitive and that those who have been rehabilitated after long sentences should get an opportunity to rejoin society. Naïké Savain of DC Justice Lab praised the proposed rewrite, saying it would advance fairness and racial equity.


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