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Fact: DC has a mass incarceration problem

September 11, 2019
Recent public debates in the District of Columbia surrounding legislation to expand opportunities for sentence reductions to people convicted of offenses before age 25 have raised questions about the level of incarceration in the District.

Recent public debates in the District of Columbia surrounding legislation to expand opportunities for sentence reductions to people convicted of offenses before age 25 have raised questions about the level of incarceration in the District. Analysis conducted by The Sentencing Project finds the District of Columbia has an incarceration rate of 930 per 100,000 residents. When compared to states, it ranks as the fourth highest in the country.

At a September 5th community meeting regarding the the Second Look Amendment Act of 2019, the US Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the District of Columbia claimed that DC’s incarceration rate was just one-third this figure and that it ranked lower than most states. While a comparison of city and state incarceration rates is problematic given the differences among these jurisdictions, it is important to acknowledge the magnitude of this error, which the USAO has not specified in its acknowledgment of error.

The Sentencing Project strongly supports the Second Look Amendment Act of 2019. DC law currently allows people who received sentences longer than 15 years before turning 18 to have their sentences reviewed after a portion of their term has been served. This bill would extend sentence reviews to people convicted for an offense that occurred before turning 25, allowing a second look for more people who deserve a chance to reenter society. Research shows that individuals generally age out of serious crime, therefore the current law leaves hundreds of people who likely pose little threat to public safety without any hope of release.

The Sentencing Project is part of a District-wide coalition of advocates who support this common-sense response to mass incarceration, and the reform echos the goals of The Sentencing Project’s Campaign to End Life Imprisonment.

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