Attorney General Karl A. Racine
Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia
Sentencing Project Release of the "No End in Sight: America's Enduring Reliance on Life Imprisonment" Report
February 17, 2021
Thank you so much, Amy, for the introduction. And let me tell you how much of a pleasure it is for me to join you, Ashley, Renaldo, and Lt. Governor Fetterman for this extremely well-timed and well-researched announcement. It’s inspiriting to hear this passionate group advocate on such long-overdue, common sense changes to the criminal justice system.
As you stated, there are more than 10,000 Americans serving life sentences today for a crime they committed before they turned 18 years old.
Thousands of them were given life without parole—even though that practice is condemned roundly amongst the international community. And a disproportionate number of those individuals incarcerated are people of color.
This is a sign of just how unforgiving, and how unjust, the justice system is for young Black and Brown offenders.
That’s why the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia has been working to make the District’s juvenile justice system one that embraces reform.
Not only have we worked to reduce contact with the system through alternatives, such as diversion and restorative justice… We’ve also championed sentence reduction in the District to address some of the past harms created by an inequitable, unjust, and harsh mass incarceration system.
This includes the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act, which gives individuals who were incarcerated for crimes they committed as young people a chance at resentencing once they have served substantial prison time—15 or 20 years.
First, the Council passed a law that allows individuals who were convicted of a crime committed before they turned 18, and who have served at least 15 years in prison, to petition for a judge to review their sentence. Just last year, the Council expanded eligibility to those who were convicted of crimes before they turned 25.
These changes follow scientific research and unquestioned data that teaches us a person’s brain isn’t finished developing. Brains are under construction until an individual is in their mid-20s. And studies powerfully establish that most people age out of crime.
So, we firmly believe that those who demonstrate to a judge that they are not a risk to public safety deserve a second chance.
As our friends at the Sentencing Project make clear with this report, it’s past time for jurisdictions across the country to embrace these reforms.
Our mass incarceration problem is not a reflection of a population more violent or more criminal than any other. It’s the result of disastrously misguided and unfair policies written in the name of appearing “tough on crime”—policies we must now end, because we must be smart on crime.