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Thrive DC Supports the Revised Criminal Code Act (RCCA)

Posted on December 8, 2022

Wouldn’t it be cool to use a notebook from 1901? Or maybe a watch or set of marbles? 

Old things can be really cool. They carry a sense of history, a window into the way life used to be. 

But when your criminal code is showing its history, that’s likely a problem. And that’s the case with the DC Criminal Code, which was created in 1901 by officials that we, in 2022, did not elect. The code has, of course, had revisions over the years, but they have been limited in scope, rather than looking at how the code as a whole functions. 

Councilmember Charles Allen describes the issue in only a few words: “[the code is] full of contradiction, it’s full of outdated language, outdated values." To fix this, the DC Council passed the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 (RCCA). The bill aims to bring cohesion to the criminal code, reduce confusion, and promote fairness and flexibility in sentencing. 

The bill supports these goals through a few key strategies, according to an ABC News report

  • Creating Universal Definitions, Modern Terms, and Clear and Consistent Organization
  • Expanding Rights to Jury Trials for Misdemeanors
  • Adding New Penalty Classes for All Crimes
  • “Second Look for All” Sentencing Reform
  • Eliminating Most Mandatory Minimum Sentences

These reforms received wide public approval, with 83% of District voters supporting the bill. Many organizations also voiced their support, such as The Sentencing Project, which released an open letter of support for the legislation. Their letter outlines key reasons for passing the measure:

  • People tend to age out of crimes. Criminal careers tend to end in less than ten years–so sentences above ten years aren’t statistically preventing very much crime.
  • The incarceration system holds many elderly prisoners, who–because of the tendency to age out of crime–are no longer a risk to society. Yet, the increased cost to care for these aging individuals costs taxpayers a significant amount of money, as the government is responsible for their increased costs of healthcare. 
  • The current criminal code disproportionately impacts people of color, young people, and women.

These reasons, and more, are backed by expert opinion, as shown during the open comment period for the bill. In the fall of 2021, the Council held a symposium and three public hearings which saw testimony from advocates and experts from the US DC Attorney’s Office, Public Defender Service Office, DC Attorney General’s office, and more. 

This bill, if signed by the mayor, will create tremendous change for DC. It will put us on the path to more equitable sentencing and less incarceration. Yet, there’s still a long way to go. The Sentencing Project, while praising the changes the RCCA creates, made sure to note the ways the city can expand on sentencing reform in the future. In addition, Thrive DC would like to point out the additional support is needed to help returning citizens build a thriving life when they come home. There are so many barriers to housing, employment, and financial security when a person returns home from incarceration. Changes to these systems must be made in tandem with sentencing reform to ensure that we’re not releasing people from prison just to end up homeless within a few months. 

In the meantime, without these changes, organizations that aid returning citizens will need increased support. Thrive DC serves returning citizens by providing general case management, housing referrals, employment counseling, employment training, re-entry transitional housing and more. These programs are likely to see an increase in clients over time with the passage of RCCA, as sentences are re-considered and are made shorter overall. 

Thrive DC joins the call for Mayor Bowser to sign the RCCA and make these changes in the DC justice system. Everyone deserves a thriving life, and criminal justice reforms such as those contained in the RCCA are an important step toward making that a reality for everyone, regardless of race, gender, or economic class. 

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