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Victims’ Families Criticize Sentence-Reduction Legislation

If not for her death, and that of several others, along South Capitol Street during a 2010 mass shooting, the late Brishell Jones would most likely be preparing for a socially distant 27th birthday celebration with family and friends later this month.

Nardyne Jefferies, Jones’ mother and anti-violence activist, said those thoughts entered her mind last Thursday as she tearfully picketed in front of the Wilson Building in opposition of legislation that could induce the early release of her daughter’s convicted killers, and hundreds of other young violent offenders.

Much to Jefferies’ chagrin, the D.C. Council unanimously approved what’s known as the Second Look Amendment Act earlier this month, at a time when violent crime continues to ravage the District and the public fervor for police accountability has, in part, compelled Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Peter Newsham’s transfer to another jurisdiction.

“The D.C. Council can do more proactive measures to save youth, [like] putting resources into them prior to them committing these egregious acts. Put the money into the education system and community activities,” Jefferies told The Informer on the afternoon of Dec.10, just hours before she and others converged on the Wilson Building.

“Monitor the agencies that are supposed to render these services. There are a lot of social workers that are bombarded, and money is being used on everything except foster children,” Jefferies added, as she continued to stress that she doesn’t oppose other means of serving local youth.

“Don’t wait until this person is a repeat offender to give them another chance. My daughter doesn’t get another chance at life, nor do any of the other victims in the District.”

The Second Look Amendment Act and other criminal justice reform efforts in the District and around the country have relied on the premise that juvenile offenders, particularly those who’ve experienced past trauma, don’t develop the mental maturity necessary to self-regulate until they’re well into their 20s.

The D.C. Council unanimously approved the Second Look Amendment Act on Tuesday, allowing more than 500 adult violent offenders to petition for early release if they committed their offense before the age of 25. This legislation builds upon the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act (IRAA), a 2007 bill that provided a means of sentence reduction for 16- and 17-year-old violent offenders who served 20 years of their sentence.

Last year, the D.C. Council approved the lowering of that threshold to 15 years.

Since the passage of IRAA, more than 70 violent youth offenders have sought early release, with only 17 motions receiving rulings. In the more-than-a-dozen motions granted, youth offenders were serving time for rape, armed robbery, and armed kidnapping convictions.

Last summer, the Office of the U.S. District Attorney for the District of Columbia released a memo opposing the Second Look Amendment Act, primarily because the process would ignore the nature of the crime committed.

In reflecting on the pushback among survivors of violent crime, D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) noted that judges deliberating the reduction of an inmate’s sentence often prioritize family members’ voices.

He said the D.C. Council took similar steps in creating a survivors’ fund geared toward addressing concerns that survivors expressed about navigating the post-conviction process.

“As we look to make reforms to our criminal justice system, the victims’ voices are front and center,” said Allen, chair of the council’s Committee on the Judiciary. “My job is not to make a judgment about which victim is right. No matter their decision, they must be listened to and respected.”

This month, the District’s year-to-date homicide rate surpassed 190, a total that was 20 percent higher than what MPD recorded last year. Authorities allege that a recently reported homicide involved a teenaged triggerman. In social media forums, residents of affected communities often debate about the best means of curbing violent crime among this demographic.

While she made an attempt to understand the plight of some youth offenders, Rashida Washington disregarded any notion that the Second Look Amendment Act would be of any benefit to District residents.

This holiday season, she and her children will commune, once again, without Devonte Washington, their son and brother who a teen gunman shot and killed in front of them four years ago.

“This bill will add a lot more to the nonsense going on in the streets,” Washington told The Informer. “I understand some people get caught up, but [there are] some flight risks, like the person who took my son’s life and premeditated doing these things. I don’t know how they can release intentionally violent killers. It’s detrimental to families.”

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