The Jan. 17 editorial “Making the city more dangerous” included a misleading description of how penalties change under the District’s Revised Criminal Code Act, which the D.C. Council passed unanimously. The act would provide significant penalties for violent crimes committed with firearms that are consistent with current sentencing practices.
The editorial said the “penalty for someone convicted of a violent felony while using a gun to commit more violence would drop to four years from 15 years.” Under the act, committing a violent crime with a firearm, depending on the crime, is punishable by 20 to 30 years’ incarceration (or more). These penalties are higher than nearly all sentences imposed under current law. For example, the act’s maximum 24-year sentence for carjacking is nine years higher than even the harshest sentences imposed under current law. These penalties do not hamper prosecutors’ discretion to request long sentences when justified. The editorial failed to mention that the act increases penalties for some offenses and creates entirely new criminal offenses. For example, the act increases penalties for offenses such as possession of ghost guns and assault weapons and creates new offenses, such as firing a gun in a public space.
The penalties in the act were the product of a long, deliberative process that included input from the U.S. attorney’s office, the executive branch and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system. A decade of sentencing data was also used to ensure that the measure’s maximum sentences are as high or higher than nearly all sentences actually imposed under current law. The act retains significant penalties for violent crimes, especially when committed with firearms.
Jinwoo Charles Park, Washington
The writer is executive director of the D.C. Criminal Code Reform Commission.
The Jan. 17 editorial on the D.C. crime bill ignored an abundance of criminological evidence demonstrating that extreme sentencing practices are cruel, costly and not a solution to gun violence.
This week, the D.C. Council stood up for a more just society by overriding Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s (D) veto of the Revised Criminal Code Act. The act will modernize the criminal code and eliminate almost all mandatory minimum sentences, lower maximum sentences to 45 years and allow judicial sentencing reconsideration after 20 years of imprisonment.
The act was introduced alongside an extensive report and testimony demonstrating the ineffectiveness of extreme sentencing practices. Lengthy prison terms incarcerate people who no longer pose a public safety risk, do not significantly deter crime and divert resources from effective investments in public safety. Lengthy sentences also have a disproportionate impact on people of color, perpetuating cycles of discrimination that make the District less equitable, safe and prosperous. We also know that effective solutions to gun violence begin with investing in communities, not prison sentences.
The act is the impressive result of years of research, community feedback, stakeholder input and negotiation. The D.C. Council was right to override Ms. Bowser’s veto, and we urge the Editorial Board to review the research on extreme sentencing practices before supporting retrograde harsh policies that have been proved to make us less safe.
Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Washington
The writer is co-director of research for the Sentencing Project.