Bill that could let more DC prisoners out early clears committee

A D.C. Council committee approved a bill Monday that would give more prisoners the opportunity for early release, despite opposition from law enforcement.

The Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety passed the legislation, which would allow some prisoners convicted of violent crimes — including murder and sexual assault — to be freed before they complete their full sentences.

It would apply to prisoners who have served at least 15 years behind bars and were convicted of a violent crime before they turned 25. Under current law, prisoners are given that same opportunity if they were convicted before they turned 18.

Councilmember Charles Allen, who chairs the committee, promised that “the victim’s voice is given the greatest weight,” referring to what a judge takes into consideration when determining whether a prisoner should be released early.

Allen was responding to concerns that the legislation does not sufficiently prioritize statements from a victim or a victim’s family — concerns cited by Councilmember Mary Cheh in voting against the bill.

“The essential flaw that I find is that, for me, it doesn’t strike the right moral balance,” said Cheh.

“I don’t think it gives sufficient weight to the victim’s statement. We have to give due attention to the victim and the victim’s family.”

The Metropolitan Police Department has publicly voiced opposition to the bill, claiming in a statement posted to Twitter that the measure would “provide for the early release of hundreds of violent gun offenders.”

Cheh criticized the D.C. police for speaking out in that way.

“My remarks are in no way influenced by certain tweets by members of the law enforcement community that I found particularly inappropriate,” she said.

Despite Cheh’s opposition, the legislation passed and will be considered by the full D.C. Council next month.

Criminal justice reform advocates have come out in favor of such bills, saying that young offenders should be given a chance to rehabilitate themselves and reenter society.

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