Halim Flower’s ability to leave prison with a commuted sentence in the adjoining story serves as a backdrop to D.C. Council member Charles Allen’s amendment to have sentence reduction for youth violent offenders raised for consideration up to the age of 24 based on good behavior and showing remorse.
Allen, who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, has submitted an amendment to the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act of 2016 that passed as a part of fellow Council member Kenyan McDuffie’s Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016 that took effect in April 2017. His amendment would raise the age to before 24, noting that offenders eligible for sentence reduction would have committed their offenses as juveniles, served 20 years in prison and not come up for parole.
Allen said eligible offenders will make their case for sentence reduction in front of a D.C. judge and will have to meet a high bar for resentencing and prove they aren’t a risk to others.
“Judges have a very high threshold for granting this type of release,” he said. “It’s not enough to say you’re sorry for committing the offense.”
The council member said 17 individuals have had their sentences reheard and none of them have gone back to prison.
Allen also based his efforts on the widely accepted science that says teenagers and young adults’ brains are still maturing and are prone to making questionable decisions.
“There has been research that proves that the brain is still in formation up to 26 years old,” he said. “Some of us did something stupid in our early years. It is reasonable to assume that a person who has been locked up for a life sentence at 18 looks at life differently when 40.”
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine supports Allen’s efforts, saying the compelling nature of the brain science justifies revisiting an offender’s sentence and other states are considering that too.
However, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie L. Liu strongly opposes Allen’s amendment, saying that it doesn’t consider the experiences of victims.
“The proposed legislation re-victimizes victims who have suffered and continue to suffer,” Liu said in a statement, noting that 67 percent of violent offenders re-offend within three years of release and the Federal Bureau of Prisons data suggests that 1 in 3 of the types of violent criminals would be eligible for early release “back into the community while the District is experiencing staggering number of homicides and other violent crimes.”
Allen said his amendment and the bill addresses victims’ concerns.
“The bill allows the victims and victims’ families a say in this process,” he said. “Some victims support the criminal offender, some don’t. But the victims do have a strong voice.”