Many of the terrifying crimes referenced in the front-page series “Second-chance city” [Dec. 4 and 5] occurred in my district. Innocent lives were destroyed, and the violent individuals who caused this wanton damage were given lenient sentences by judges simply for being younger than 22. But the court system isn’t the only entity that failed the traumatized victims. So did the prosecutors who failed to properly communicate with them before entering into plea-deal agreements.
My residents and I are no longer willing to tolerate the status quo. We are drafting legislation limiting the Youth Rehabilitation Act to nonviolent offenses. No longer will individuals convicted of rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, aggravated assault and other violent offenses be given a lesser sentence simply because of their age. Additionally, we are requesting stringent oversight by Congress over the federal agencies involved in adjudicating criminal offenses that occur in the District.
Lady Justice represents everyone, and her scales should not be tilted against those who suffer violent attacks and who will live with the physical and mental scars for the rest of their lives.
K. Denise Rucker Krepp, Washington
The writer is Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B10 commissioner.
We could not have been more dismayed by the “Second-chance city” series. The inflammatory title and lurid focus on a handful of troubling cases did a disservice to an important statute that affords youthful offenders an opportunity to change their ways and earn back a clean record.
It was especially disturbing that the series included no success stories. As law professors teaching in Georgetown University’s law clinics, we have had many clients who completed a Youth Rehabilitation Act sentence, went on to college, obtained good jobs and raised families.
Recidivism is difficult to predict. But the Supreme Court has recognized that the vast majority of young offenders grow out of antisocial activities as they move from adolescence to adulthood. The YRA is one of the few mechanisms through which a judge can exercise discretion to give a young person a second chance.
No one is escaping punishment. The YRA offers an opportunity for a conviction to be set aside after a sentence is completed — a substantial prison sentence in some cases — if the judge or U.S. Parole Commission finds that a young person has been rehabilitated.
The YRA is not responsible for violent crime in the District. The real culprits are poverty, schools that fail to educate, the lack of jobs for youths and a feeling among many disadvantaged youths that there is no future for them.
Vida Johnson, Abbe Smith and Kristin Henning, Washington
As a result of its myopic focus and failure to consider the Youth Rehabilitation Act in proper context, the “Second-chance city” series perpetuated a divisive and destructive dichotomy that the choice for District residents who want to be safe is only between grace and incarceration. The series drew an artificial line between victim and offender, ignoring that youthful offenders who are sentenced under the Youth Rehabilitation Act were often victims themselves before their involvement with the system.
Grace has been historically reserved for the haves and incarceration doled out to the have-nots — making the increased use of incarceration particularly detrimental to poor people of color. These ineffective policies led to our current crisis of mass incarceration. Overreliance on incarceration might make some feel safer, but it will not actually make us safe.
During these uncertain times, we must see each other as human, resist attempts at division and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. We encourage our fellow residents to reject stone-throwing and instead unite to find meaningful solutions to ensure the safety and liberty of all D.C. residents.
William H. Lamar IV, Washington
The writer is pastor of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Roger J. Gench, Washington
The writer is pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.