Testimony in support of Washington, DC’s Revised Criminal Code Act of 2021

I’m Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Senior Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project and a Ward 6 resident. Established in 1986, The Sentencing Project promotes effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice.

In the past decade of studying sentencing, both in this position and previously for my dissertation research, I have focused on extreme sentences, reform trends, and factors contributing to and abating racial disparities in the prison population. A priority for me in this work has been advancing public safety, which I see as the key function of criminal sentencing. Given that people of color are more likely than whites to experience serious violent crime, developing effective policies to advance public safety is a racial justice issue.

The Sentencing Project strongly supports the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2021 (RCCA), B24-0416, because several of its features help to scale back extreme prison sentences, which are infused with racial bias and are counterproductive to public safety. Specifically, we commend:

  • The elimination of all mandatory minimum sentences
  • Lowering maximum sentences to 45 years
  • Allowing judicial sentencing reconsideration after 15 years of imprisonment

These proposals echo and build upon similar reforms happening around the country. As I’ll show, they’ll bring D.C.’s criminal penalties closer in line with criminological evidence on public safety, though in some cases the Council should go much further.

Reverend Vivian Nixon, former Executive Director of College & Community Fellowship in New York City has said: “The quality of the solution depends on who is impacted by the problem.” Criminal sentencing in D.C. overwhelmingly affects people of color, in particular Black men; crime victims are also overwhelmingly people of color. Researchers have demonstrated that the association of crime with communities of color has favored punitive policies over prevention and rehabilitation. Let us work to mitigate our biases and develop high-quality solutions.

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