Current D.C. law enables inmates serving lengthy sentences to petition for a reduced sentence if they committed their crime before turning 18. By increasing the cutoff to age 25, and by making inmates eligible for release after just 15 years, the legislation would go further than that of any state in the nation.
The measure would apply to inmates convicted of the most terrible crimes: murders and sexual assaults. It would apply even to serial killers, mass murderers and rapists. It would apply, for example, to Antwon Pitt.
Mr. Pitt, a predator with eight arrests and a robbery conviction during a four-year span, was sentenced to 60 years in prison three years ago for the brutal rape and beating of a 40-year-old college professor in her home — after testimony from a victim that a judge called the “most harrowing this court has ever heard.” Having committed the crime at age 21, Mr. Pitt would be eligible for release when he is 36 years old under the pending bill.
That’s part of the problem with the legislation, sponsored by council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6): In the most appalling crimes, it makes a mockery of sentences handed down by judges. While no convict’s appeal for sentence reduction would be granted automatically — courts would remain empowered to review a range of factors, including the degree to which the petitioner seemed to have been rehabilitated — there’s a catch. Earlier this year, the D.C. Council deleted a legal requirement that judges consider the severity of the crime itself.
That gratuitous move sent a message to Superior Court judges, who may now fairly wonder whether they will be dressed down by the council should they refuse to reduce a sentence by emphasizing the monstrous nature of the original crime. That’s exactly what happened this year when Mr. Allen wrote to Judge Michael O’Keefe, criticizing him for denying a sentence reduction in the case of a convict who had raped a 9-year-old girl. Mr. Allen said the judge should have put more emphasis on the inmate’s rehabilitation and “conduct while incarcerated for the past 37 years.”
In the name of putting a dent in mass incarceration, the measure would embrace a radical rejection of transparency in sentencing and straight dealings with victims. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who has expressed reservations about the measure, was correct when she said, “we’ve heard a lot about offenders, we haven’t heard enough about victims.”