Criminal Justice Reform in Washington D.C.


Under the 1997 DC Revitalization Act, the federal government gained control of the DC criminal justice system, giving federal prosecutors heavy-handed control over violent crime trials. Because of the federal government's control, offenders who were convicted in DC are treated as federal prisoners and can be sent to any one of the 110 facilities across the country. Of these federal prisoners, the majority are parole violators and 60% of these parole violations are technical. Technical violations cost the District’s taxpayers, raise recidivism rates, and limit future economic opportunities for offenders.


Since 2010, DC facilities have implemented a number of reforms. One of these reforms allows prisoners to earn good time credits, which make prisoners eligible for an earlier release through academic, vocational, or rehabilitation programs, as well as through meritorious acts of service. This is an exceptional bill that reduces the prison population, reduces the risk of recidivism, and promotes a safer society.

In 2016, DC addressed the juvenile justice system with a comprehensive reform bill. The bill prevents juveniles from being detained unnecessarily before a court hearing, allows juveniles to seal their arrest records, bans juvenile life without parole sentences, eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for juveniles, bans juvenile solitary confinement, and gives juveniles charged as adults with long sentences an opportunity for release after 20 years, among other reforms. This juvenile justice reform bill gives youth in the system a chance to turn their lives around after incarceration so that they don’t have to be career offenders.


Since 2017, only 8% of the DC inmates are drug offenders -- a low statistic that can be attributed to rehabilitation programs.In order to further fix the issues within the DC prisons, legislation should be implemented to prevent inmates from being placed in facilities so far from home. Research shows that increasing the distance between inmates and their families increases their odds of recidivating as long distances can inhibit the preservation of a support system at home. And, high recidivism rates translate to more taxpayer dollars and decreased public safety. Thus, it is important to address the problem at the source and make it possible for inmates to maintain their support networks so that they are less likely to recidivate upon their release.

Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.

Washington Lawyers' Committee - Conditions of Confinement in the District of Columbia