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Should offenders who committed violent crimes before they were 25 years old be eligible for early release after serving 15 years of their sentence?
That’s the question raised by a bill introduced into the D.C. Council earlier this year — and one that the the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C., ANCs and activist groups are now weighing in on.
In 2016, the D.C. Council passed the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act (IRAA), which allows offenders who committed violent before they were 18 years old a chance to petition a judge for a shorter sentence — if they had already served 15 years of their original sentence. The new bill, called the Second Look Amendment Act, would increase the age limit to 24.
The U.S. Attorney for D.C. held a public meeting last week with D.C. police officials, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and local civic associations to talk about the Second Look Act. Federal prosecutors laid out a case against the bill, bringing up incarceration statistics that were later shown to be inaccurate. Other concerns were raised: How would this new act impact survivors and the families of the victims of these violent crimes? Should the U.S. Attorney’s Office weigh in so heavily on a local bill?
We’ll hear a few perspectives about the Second Look Amendment Act.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. On September the 12th of 2001 we began our broadcast with a quote from David von Drehle in The Washington Post, who was quoting the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky who said, "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." Today marks the 18th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Our thoughts are with everyone whose lives were forever altered that day as the country commemorates the horrendous events that left the nation in mourning and changed the course of history.
KOJO NNAMDILater in the broadcast a look at compensation for people who have been wrongfully imprisoned. But first earlier this year, the D.C. Council introduced a bill that would allow offenders of violent crimes, who were under the age of 25 at the time when the crime was committed to petition a judge for a reduced sentence after serving 15 years. The new bill called the Second Look Amendment Act has charged a debate that includes the D.C. Council, Criminal Reform Justice Advocates and ANCs. It has even drawn the attention of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. Jessie Liu. Joining me in studio to discuss this bill is Nazgol Ghandnoosh. Nazgol Ghandnoosh is a Senior Research Analyst at the Sentencing Project. Thank you so much for joining us.
NAZGOL GHANDNOOSHMy pleasure.
NNAMDIDenise Rucker Krepp is the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner 6B10 in Washington D.C. Denise Rucker Krepp, good to see you again.
DENISE RUCKER KREPPThank you for having me.
NNAMDINazgol, the Second Look Amendment Act would be building off the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act or IRAA, which was passed by the D.C. Council in 2016. Can you briefly tell us what the IRAA is and how the Second Look Amendment Act would change it?
GHANDNOOSHSure. The IRAA, the law which was passed in 2016 and the amendment now, what it does is it allows people convicted of serious crimes generally under the age of 18 to petition for resentencing. And it's responsive to research showing that adolescent brain development is incomplete and that juveniles, who commit crimes are especially susceptible to peer pressure, are weak at recognizing the risks and consequences of their actions and are especially likely, amenable to rehabilitation and reform. The Second Look Amendment Act that's currently under consideration, the major distinction that it has, the major reform that it would implement is to increase the age cutoff from 18 to 19. So right now someone who is convicted of a crime at age 18 is not eligible for resentencing, but the Second Look Act makes them eligible.
NNAMDII thought the Second Look Act makes them eligible once they committed the crime under the age of 25.
GHANDNOOSHI'm sorry. What did I say?
GHANDNOOSHSorry. So under the age of 25. So people who are 18, 19 and so one would be eligible for resentencing.
NNAMDIUnder this, and we should clarify that this is for violent crimes. What types of crimes fall under this umbrella?
GHANDNOOSHThese are serious crimes. Many homicides, sexual assaults, these kinds of crimes. These are -- the reason that these kinds of offenses are now being considered for resentencing is that people that were convicted of these crimes receive multi-decade long sentences. And so now these reforms are trying to make it possible to shorten sentences for people, who are deemed to have been rehabilitated after being in prison for 15 years and to make it so that the instead of imprisoning people are not a public safety risk, we can begin to focus on putting our criminal justice dollars elsewhere, victim services, rehabilitation programs, while people are in prison job opportunity, education programs and so on.
NNAMDIIs that why you support the Second Look Act?
GHANDNOOSHYes. That is a major reason why I support the Second Look Act. There's two reasons. I would say one of them is that this is exactly the kind of policy that we need to end mass incarceration. A lot of people don't realize that half of the prison population in the United States is serving time for a violent offense. The reason that that proportion and the overall number is so high is that people are serving much longer sentences than in the past, and compared to other countries that we think of as our peer countries. And so that's why organizations like the Sentencing Project where I work, the National ACLU, experts there like David Cole, Clint Smith, who writes for the New Yorker, legalize experts who write the model Penal Code, researchers at the National Research Council all advise scaling back sentences for serious crimes.
GHANDNOOSHAnd the reason we can do that safely is because research shows that people age out of crime. Most criminal careers are typically 10 years long. Long sentences are not effective deterrents, because most people don't expect to be caught. And instead of imprisoning people who are no longer a risk to their victims and to their communities we need to really fill in the gaps in our social safety net.
NNAMDIDenise Rucker Krepp, what are your concerns about the Second Look Act?
KREPPWell, I oppose it and I oppose it, because of something that happened in 2015. In October of 2015, my resident was violently raped. She was beaten up, face was so badly bruised that her child didn't recognize her. That was the little one and she had to stop nursing her child, the baby, because of the antibiotics that she put on after the rape. She had to go through surgery. Her family moved. The mattress on which she was raped was placed outside of my house because they wanted to destroy it. So while we were waiting for DPW to come pick it up I saw the mattress. Now why am I sharing that with you? The individual, who raped her was sentenced to 60 years in jail.
KREPPAntwon Pitt was sentenced to 60 years in jail and she was not his first victim. He had sexually terrorized many other victims. It was a horrific crime and if this proposal becomes law, Antwon Pitt would be eligible to be released after 15 years. So he received a 60 year sentence in 2015, but under the change would come out in 15.
NNAMDIIt is my understanding that Antwon Pitt while he was incarcerated in Florida had several violations including sexual assaults against corrections officers, and all of that was overlooked.
NNAMDIAnd he was somehow never the less released.
KREPPHe was released. He repeatedly terrorized the guards and he was released and within about two months he raped my neighbor.
NNAMDIThe U.S. Attorney for D.C. Jessie Liu weighed in on this D.C. bill. Last week Liu's office and D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham hosted a public meeting to lobby against the Second Look Act. In attendance were Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and members of civic associations. WAMU reporter Martin Austermuhle interviewed Liu in mid-August to ask about her office's concerns over the Second Look Act and why her office is speaking out against a piece of local legislation.
JESSIE LIUThe driving motivation is that, as you know, we're seeing a spike in homicides both in 2018 and also this year unfortunately in 2019. We're seeing a lot of gun violence in the city. And so we think the focus really needs to be on public safety right now and it's not clear to us at all how this bill advances public safety. The individuals that this bill would benefit are defendants, who have convicted of not just violent offenses, but very very serious violent offenses. They're individuals, who have served at least 15 years in prison. And as a practical matter here in D.C. most of those individuals are folks who have been convicted of murder or sexual assault, so very very serious violent offenses.
NNAMDIIn that interview Liu also expressed concerns about the effect of this bill on victims.
LIUWe work very closely with our victims. We have the largest victim-witness assistance unit of any U.S. Attorney's Office in the country. And in speaking to victims we've discovered that when they learn about the possibility of early release for the defendants, who have victimized them it many senses it's like being re-victimized and they're very upset about it.
NNAMDINazgol, both you and Denise attended that meeting last week. I'll start with you, Denise. That meeting organized by the U.S. Attorney, what did you take away from that meeting?
KREPPI took away two things. First 20 of the 21 individuals, who have sought resentencing after 2016, involved individuals who raped somebody else. So one of those individuals participated in the gang rape of a 17 year old girl. Another individual raped a girl at gun point. So this was the first time that I had heard that law passed by the D.C. Council has resulted in individuals, who participated in rape were released. I didn't know that and to me it was like, wait a second. Are we really writing laws for individuals, who participate in child rape, serial rape, gang rape are being released? What is the public policy for doing that? And then that's -- I agree with the Attorney Liu in that what is the public safety argument for releasing individuals, who are raping others, because quite frankly the victims don't get a second chance.
KREPPSo I have yet to hear how this law helps the victims. I've heard a lot about how it helps people, who rape, but again, I have not heard how this helps individuals, who have been raped. I've heard about -- I'm sorry. I've heard about the rapist. I have not heard about the victims. So I'm struggling to understand what's going on.
NNAMDINazgol, what were your takeaways about the information presented at the meeting?
GHANDNOOSHWell, there was some serious factual errors. So the U.S. Attorney's Office argued that Washington D.C. does not have a mass incarceration problem and presented evidence that D.C.'s incarceration rate is about 300 per 100,000 when in actuality the actual figure is closer to 900 per 100,000. And they referenced the First Step Act that President Trump signed into law last December suggesting that this is the kind of reform they support. Not sentencing reforms, not revisiting extreme sentences for violent crimes. The First Step Act is called the First Step Act, because it is the first step.
GHANDNOOSHMost people in prison like I said are there for violent crimes and we know that they're serving very long sentences. Something that was really absent during the hearing, the U.S. Attorney's meeting that they had last Thursday was the voice of victims, who support this bill. So, for example, April Goggans, who's written a letter to the editor to The Washington Post, has argued that as a sexual violence survivor she is a strong supporter of this bill.
GHANDNOOSHOthers that support this bill are ANC Commissioners Aaron Palmer, survivor Stephanie Harrelson, a Georgetown Law student, Nana Imuchi, from BYP100, these are people who have themselves experienced sexual violence, and realize that imprisoning people decades after they no longer pose a safety risk to their communities is a waste of our resources especially when you look at Antwon Pitt's case. Look at the very high profile cases of homicides in my district in Ward 6, for example. When I look at the details of these cases I see people that fell through the cracks. I see holes in our services in providing mental healthcare and improving foster care. These are the kinds of things -- we're a democratic city.
GHANDNOOSHThis is a bill that was supported by the majority of our City Council. It's supported by our deputy mayor. It's supported by our attorney general. It's supported by the Corrections Information Council. What we see happening right now is that a Trump appointed U.S. Attorney is intervening and trying to lobby against a bill that is supported by the majority of our elected officials.
NNAMDIYou raised at least two issues that I'd like Denise to respond to. One of them is that the fact that some of the survivors of sexual assault have come forward to support the Second Look Act. She quoted April Goggans, who is an organizer with Black Lives Matter D.C. who wrote a letter to The Washington Post saying that she supports the act. And that she will not tolerate being spoken for. Keeping people in jail does not make us safer. How do you respond to people who supportive of this bill, who are victims of sexual assault themselves or survivors?
KREPPI've part of the sexual assault community for 26 years and that experience has taught me that survivors have different opinions. So I respect April's viewpoint. But I'm also an elected official and my residents have said they are appalled that the D.C. Council is writing legislation that will release rapists. Again, victims don't get a second chance. So my residents -- and I am an elected official have said, look, you need to oppose this, Denise. What's going on is wrong.
NNAMDIWell, there are people, who say that you don't speak for all people in Ward 6 or all of the people in your ANC. However, the other argument that has been raised is that according to this bill the individuals, who apply for reduced sentences will also have to both indicate how they're -- what their conduct was during the time of their incarceration. And that they'll also be incorporating the opinions of the victims of these individuals. How do you feel about that?
KREPPSo there's another law that was passed earlier this year where the D.C. Council affirmatively removed the requirement that the underlying crime be reviewed by the judge. And I'm still puzzled by that. I don't understand why the D.C. Council wrote legislation saying, take out review of the underlying crime, because that sends the signal to others that you shouldn't be considering that, again, victims suffered a lot of crime. Why don't you want the judges to look at that?
NNAMDII'm not sure I understand how this will work. Nazgol, if they take out review of the underlying crime, how can the applicant for a reduced sentence have included the views of his or her victims?
GHANDNOOSHSure. I think there's some misunderstanding here. In the second version of the IRAA, which is currently law there is not a factor included of the underlying offense. However, the underlying offense is included in several of the 11 factors that a judge is supposed to consider. So for example, in measuring whether the person has rehabilitated, so rehabilitated from what, from the underlying offense, in considering the view of the U.S. Attorney's Office, in considering the views of victims and in anything else the judge wants to consider, so that's current law right now.
GHANDNOOSHI had a conversation actually with a staff member of Charles Allen's office to clarify why was the underlying offense removed from the bill from the current law from the second version of the IRAA, which is currently law and she explained that the reasoning for that was that they found that the U.S. Attorney's Office would point to the underlying offense and say, this offense just across the board makes somebody ineligible for being considered for release and they were trying to prevent that way of arguing. And so they wanted a judge to be able to consider the underlying offense, but also to seriously consider measure of rehabilitation and whether or not it's safe to release the person. Can I just correct a couple other points? One of them being that --
NNAMDIWell, let me just ask Denise to respond to this first because, Denise, you seem to feel that the underlying offense is of crucial importance. You seem to be making the argument that people, who have committed certain kinds of crimes especially rape and sexual assault should never be considered for reduced sentences.
KREPPAbsolutely, if you participate in rape -- we're not talking about somebody stealing your lunch money. We're not talking about somebody participating in a package theft. What we're talking about is a violent crime that results in life long trauma for not only the individual, but that individual's spouse, children, parents. That circle is pretty wide. So that's why I don't understand why the D.C. Council is doing this while at the same time I've been asking them for help on sexual harassment in D.C. schools. I've been asking them for help in other things. They seem to be MIA in a lot of issues, but they're spending a lot of time on this one. So I just don't understand what's going on.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing the Second Look Act. A bill before the D.C. Council that would permit violent offenders, who committed violent crimes before the age of 25, to apply for reduced sentences. We're talking with Nazgol Ghandnoosh, who is a Senior Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project. Denise Rucker Krepp is the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 6B10 here in Washington. And joining us now by phone is Troy Burner. Troy Burner was incarcerated for 24 years and released under the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act, which preceded the Second Look Act and which allows people, who committed crimes when they were under the age of 18 years old, to petition for reduced sentences. Troy Burner, thank you for joining us.
TROY BURNERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWhat crime where you charged with and how old were you when that crime occurred?
BURNERI was charged with first degree murder. I was 17 years old when the crime occurred.
NNAMDIAnd how long were you incarcerated?
BURNERTwenty-four years and nine months.
KOJO NNAMDI`What was the process like to petition for a shorter sentence under the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act?
BURNERWell, from tracking the Supreme Court cases and the changes and filing a (unintelligible) and it was enacted in D.C. And I came up and I made my review.
NNAMDIYou maintain that you did not commit the crimes you're charged with and you're working with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence project on a possible exoneration. Although at this time the courts have not exonerated you. You were incarcerated with people who also committed violent crimes at a young age or people who committed violent crimes at a young age, people that could petition for early release under the Second Look Act. What is your opinion of the Second Look Act?
BURNERWell, I support the Second Look Act. I mean, because if, you know, if you stick to the science (unintelligible) individuals as the university concluded and it said that full development is not achieved until it's 25 years old. So, you know, it's assumed that, you know, because you can vote and enlist in the military and legally move from parents that it's your true age of maturity, but that's not the reality and neuroscience shows that.
NNAMDIHow do you respond to concerns about recidivism, that these offenders may break the law again if they're released?
BURNERWell, again, going back to the science and the studies. The studies suggest that you age out of committing crime. You have individuals that have spent 25 -- 30 years and even though the days is reduced down to 15 years now at present what we're speaking about is individuals that have been locked up two or three decades and some more. And, you know, the actual thought that, you know, they're going to come out after spending all this time incarcerated and just automatically commit crime that's just not true. And the reality is this is a situation where, you know, I've heard it said -- well, actually I've read that it was said that 500 murderers and rapists are going to be allowed to immediately be released. Well, that's not true.
BURNERWith the Second Look Act, it gives individuals an opportunity to go up for review. And there's a stringent standard that you must meet to actually be granted action of release. It's just not that, you know, once this law pass everybody is just immediately coming home. That's not true at all.
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt you and ask Denise Rucker Krepp to respond to that because it is important to note that the Second Look Act would allow offenders to petition for a shorter sentence. And that shorter sentence won't automatically be granted or guaranteed for all violent offenders. What concerns do you have about that petition process?
KREPPAgain, I go back to the Antwon Pitt case. In 2016, he was sentenced to 60 years in jail for the pretty horrific and vicious crimes that he committed, crimes plural for multiple women. So you look at that and that was a sentence that said, look, victims don't get a second chance. Victims incur costs, financial, physical, emotional costs and that 60 years was, because of the crime that he committed. If we're now saying in 2019 that he should be eligible in 15, it's like, well, wait a second. Then why did you award him 60 in 2016? If what you're saying he should be eligible, then why aren't you just giving him 15? He received 60 for a reason, the violent violent acts and again victims don't get a second chance.
NNAMDIUnder the Second Look Act, Nazgol would an individual like Antwon Pitt be eligible to petition for a reduced sentence given his conduct while he was incarcerated?
GHANDNOOSHCertainly, people who have served 15 years in prison under current law --
NNAMDIWell, he hasn't served 15.
GHANDNOOSHOnce they have served 15 years in prison and if this bill becomes law, people who were convicted under age 25, once they serve 15 years they may petition a judge. A judge will consider all these factors, the high profile nature of their crime and so on. I think it's important when we keep raising Antwon Pitt's name to think about other very high profile cases like Willy Horton. You know, and these individuals that we're all familiar with. And when we design policies based on the most horrendous cases that are very racialized and we close the door across the board to people to be able present themselves to a judge and be evaluated we end up with mass incarceration.
GHANDNOOSHWhat led to sentences of multi-decade long and life sentences was a period, an era where we thought that this was -- our policymakers led us towards this way of handling crime. We are now beginning to move away from that and a bill like this is trying to present an opportunity for people to receive a customized review.
NNAMDIEric from Capitol Hill emails, statistics tell us about groups of people not individuals. How accurately can we predict whether an individual criminal will commit another violent crime? If one out of 100 released offenders commits another violent crime, are we willing to accept that? What if it's one out 10? And StinkyTCats tweets, a crime wave will result. Look if you want to go soft on non-violent crime have a discussion, but not for violent criminals. Erin Palmer, an ANC Commissioner for 4B02 tweeted, I'm also an ANC Commissioner and I support Second Look. I believe in rehabilitation and measures that acknowledge our history of challenges with mass incarceration. Plus there's an independent judicial review of every application for sentence reduction to determine rehabilitation.
NNAMDIAnd we mentioned April Goggans earlier. She is on the phone. April Goggans, you are on the air. We don't have a great deal of time left, but go ahead, please.
APRIL GOGGANSGreat. Thank you for having me. I think the biggest thing that I'm just sitting over here stewing, Denise said earlier that she hasn't heard from victims and she has. And she blocked us all on Tweeter. The second thing is she's been hearing about it from us on Facebook, where she refuses to respond to us saying as victims as survivors we support this bill. And what's scary to me is the fact that these folks whether it be Denise or other folks don't believe in redemption. And that says a lot, because it means that the folks or the person who's sexually assaulted me sitting in jail for 20 years in solitary confinement hasn't had any kind of rehabilitation. And if they're in jail longer than they've been on this earth there is not evidence that being in there makes us safer.
GOGGANSThe last thing is as we've seen with MeToo and everything else most violent of people and especially those who have perpetuated sexual assault walk around us live around us every day. Ninety percent of them are not reported. They do not go to prison. So it really really makes me angry. And in fact it really -- it feels like being slapped in the face, because the response saying that you're an elected official in response to being asked about survivors that support this bill that somehow makes what you feel --
NNAMDIWell, we just heard from another elected official, who supports the Second Act and I'm sorry to interrupt, but we're almost out of time. Nazgol, one reason that advocates argue that 25 years old should be the threshold for this right to petition is this idea of emerging adulthood. Can you explain that?
GHANDNOOSHThat's right. The idea is that based on psychological research and neuroscience we know that 18 has been an arbitrary cutoff for considering when adulthood begins. People with teenagers and people -- and kids in their kids can certainly tell you that. And so given that we know that as these people serve, you know, 15 plus years in prison that they have some of the lowest recidivism rates when you actually look at their commitment of new offenses then it really raises the question of why are we spending $35,000 a year to hold them in prison instead of making sure as Jessie Liu has herself acknowledged that we don't have enough services for victims in order to help them as people are released into communities and in order to help them recover from the trauma.
NNAMDIDenise Rucker Krepp, how do you respond to that idea? She's thinking, she's thinking.
KREPPNo, I have an answer for you. So in 2016, I sued the Department of Justice for prosecution data. I sought the assistance from the D.C. Council, didn't help. Sought the assistance from the mayor, they didn't help. So me, myself and I sued. I obtained the information talking about the rapes and I did that for a reason, because it's very clear that there are significant rapes occurring in D.C., but they're not being prosecuted. So what's going to happen? I'm going to be doing the same thing again tomorrow going back to DOJ and saying, look, you provided some very flawed data last week. You have not provided clear concise data on what is happening crime wise. You need to provide all that data. And I'm doing that because that is part of this discussion. We are having a conversation, but we don't have all that data. So that's my job as an ANC to get it.
NNAMDIWe'll have to see how this unfolds. Denise Rucker Krepp is the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 6B10. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDITroy Burner was incarcerated for 24 years and released under the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act. Troy Burner, thank you for joining us.
BURNERThank you for having me.
NNAMDINazgol Ghandnoosh is a Senior Research Analyst at the Sentencing Project. Thank you for joining us.
GHANDNOOSHHappy to be here.
NNAMDII'm going to take a short break, when we come back a look at compensation for people, who have been wrongfully imprisoned. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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