DC Law for Young Criminals Puts Violent Offenders Back the Streets
A Washington, DC. law called the Youth Rehabilitation Act has been allowing shorter sentences for some crimes, even expunging some criminal records altogether. But a Washington Post investigation found that what was started as a way to deter career criminals has become an opportunity for violent offenders to get a second chance at crime.
In dozens of cases, DC judges were able to hand down Youth Act sentences shorter than those called for under mandatory minimum laws designed to deter armed robberies and other violent crimes. The criminals have often repaid that leniency by escalating their crimes of violence upon release.
The law was enacted thirty years ago during former DC Mayor Marion Barry’s administration as an attempt to protect African American youths ‘from the stigma of lengthy prison sentences’. It gives judges the discretion in sentencing
“In considering whether to sentence a young person under the Youth Act, generally judges are aware that a felony conviction can create lifelong obstacles to becoming a good and productive citizen,” wrote Lynn Leibovitz and Milton Lee, who are, respectively, the presiding judge and deputy presiding judge of the criminal division of the D.C. Superior Court.
“It is important to note that a sentence under the Youth Act gives the defendant this opportunity, not a guarantee, to get the benefit of a set aside of the conviction — it is still up to the defendant to perform during his or her sentence and to apply to the court or the Parole Commission to receive the benefit of the Youth Act. If the offender does not perform well, the conviction remains on his or her record.”