The Washington, D.C. City Council voted on Tuesday in favor of sweeping reform to the city’s criminal code, reducing penalties for offenses such as illegal possession of firearms and carjacking, even as DC has seen an increase in homicides in recent years.
The bill, which requires the approval of Mayor Muriel Bowser (D.), would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for most crimes, the Washington Post reportedand lower maximum penalties for crimes such as carjacking and robbery.
City Penal Code Reforms Look Like DC Homicide dope 14% in 2021 compared to 2020. The 226 murders in 2021 are more than double the 88 homicides the city experienced in 2012.
Tuesday’s vote marks the second time this month that the council has approved the legislation, which is needed for bills in DC to move forward. This week’s deliberation on the bill was controversial, as some council members challenged provisions of the bill that would lower the maximum penalty for carrying a firearm without a license and possessing a firearm as a criminal to two years in prison.
Councilwoman Brooke Pinto (D.) proposed an amendment that would have increased maximum penalties for unlawful carrying and possession of firearms, but it was defeated by a majority of council. Public Safety Committee Chairman Charles Allen (D.) said the amendment was not supported by data showing it would improve public safety, according to the Jobreport.
“To the supporters of this amendment, I hear you saying we need to increase the penalties to respond to this moment, to send a message. But I’m asking you to show your work,” Allen said. “At some point, this council must consider what it means to have one of the highest per capita incarceration rates in the free world and yet endure this kind of violence.”
Proponents of criminal justice reform supported the legislation on the grounds that it would reduce racial disparities in incarceration. Jinwoo Charles Park, head of a city commission tasked with reforming the penal code, said he opposed the amendment to increase penalties for crimes committed with firearms because “the increase in the average sentence for these offenses would have a disproportionate effect on African American defendants.” Job reported.
Allen dismissed characterizations of the legislation as soft-crime reform, saying the bill’s purpose is to rewrite ‘unclear’ criminal laws and address ‘overlapping charges with inconsistent or missing definitions and elements [and] obsolete terminology.”
Besides murder, other crimes have increased in DC, including carjacking, which would see reduced maximum sentences if Bowser signed the bill. Carjackings have triple since 2019. A doctor was murdered in March, after trying to stop a car thief from stealing his car, a city council candidate had his car stolen at gunpoint in January, and in August, the rookie running back from the Washington commanders, Brian Robinson Jr., was shot several times during a carjacking attempt.