The D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety is gearing up for a vote on the Revised Criminal Code Act. If passed when the committee meets on Wednesday, this legislation will update the District’s more-than-a-century-old criminal code.
Much to the chagrin of racial justice advocates, committee members have since taken out portions of legislation authored by the District’s independent Criminal Code Reform Commission (CCRC), including a provision that eliminates mandatory minimums for criminal offenses.
Other parts of the Revised Criminal Code Act on the chopping block include those that secure jury trials for misdemeanors and reduce the District’s most extreme penalties.
D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), chair of the D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary, introduced an amendment extending the wait period for youth offenders petitioning for resentencing under the Second Look Act by five years. The marked-up bill also penalizes rioting and loud noises at night.
Over the last several days, a coalition composed of Black-led community abolitionist defense hub Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, DC Justice Lab and the National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens, has organized to pressure council members to reintegrate the original portions of the Revised Criminal Code Act and eliminate some of the more punitive additions.
In the days and hours leading up to the October 26 vote, these advocates continue to demand that District officials change course on matters affecting Black residents.
“Years and time was put into write a new criminal code proposal [but] the D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety took out the pieces they didn’t want,” said Makia Green, a member of Harriet’s Wildest Dreams.
“We know the original proposal to revise the criminal code included these four provisions,” she added. “They were put there on purpose by people who spend day in and day out with people in the system and see where our people slip through the cracks.”
During the Mayor-Council Breakfast on Tuesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) expressed her apprehension about passing the Revised Criminal Code Act without direct community input. She also decried aspects of the legislation, such as jury trials for misdemeanors and the decriminalization of “public nuisances,’ as threats to public safety.
In regard to the latter, Bowser said that citations, and nothing more, for public drinking, public urination and noise at night do little to prevent violence in heavily populated nightlife areas.
If approved by the D.C. Council, the Revised Criminal Code will take effect in October 2025 with some aspects of the law falling in place by 2030. The D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety postponed a committee vote scheduled for October 21 to allow for the acquisition of documents from the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
On Wednesday afternoon, the committee is scheduled to vote on the marked-up legislation. More information about the outcome can be found on The Informer’s site.
Last year, the D.C. Council received the proposed legislation, composed of recommendations by the CCRC, which came into existence in 2016, a decade after council legislation kicked off the criminal code revision process.
CCRC includes an advisory group representing the Office of the Attorney General, the Public Defender Service and local law school professors. For years, this entity analyzed elements of crime and compared language, operations and laws in the District to other jurisdictions while collecting feedback.
Findings suggested that the District’s laws lacked consistency, clarity and completeness when compared to at least 40 states.
That’s why advocates, including Patrice Sulton, have worked around the clock to dispel what she described as the myths about the Revised Criminal Code Act.
Flyers that have been circulated by the DC Justice Lab challenge the notion that people wouldn’t be penalized for spitting on others, urinating in public or carjacking. Meanwhile, Sulton, executive director of DC Justice Lab, continues to write members of the D.C. Council Committee of the Judiciary and Public Safety in the hopes that they take heed to what the experts propose.
“It is unfortunate that experts and concerned citizens who have had the proposed bill since March 31, 2021, were given only 24 hours to read and weigh in on such consequential changes,” Sulton said in a letter on Tuesday.
“Some of the proposed amendments were not even mentioned during the press conference 10 days ago, including the complete removal of the revised rioting statute and the insertion of new public order offenses,” she added.
“These major changes undermine more than 16 years of research, devalue the express[ed] desires and interests of District residents, and make a mess of the revised statutes.”