The Second Look Amendment: An Impetus for Change
Analysis conducted by The Sentencing Project finds that the District of Columbia has an incarceration rate of 930 per 100,000 residents. When holistically compared to the rest of the United States, it ranks as the fourth highest in the country. A measure taken to reduce incarceration was the passage of the Second Look Amendment Act of 2019, otherwise known as the Omnibus Public Safety and Justice Act of 2020 (IRAA 3.03), which was officially passed in April 2021. In this, an individual who committed a crime before the age of 25 can apply to have their sentence reviewed if they meet the criterion. Individuals are eligible if they have served at least fifteen years in prison, and they must forward their case and motion to the DC Superior Court. In this regard, the District of Columbia has really set themselves apart with this piece of criminal justice legislation. No other state has yet taken this initiative.
Such an approach has altered the corrections system in the District of Columbia to steer it towards a more rehabilitative approach instead of punitive. A supporting council member had even voiced that as a society, we must recognize mercy and rehabilitation. There is an overall financial and moral need to stop incarcerating people who do not pose an imminent danger to the society, especially if they are due for release later on anyways. This recent legislation is an expansion on a previous law, which had provided the same service, except to those imprisoned before their 18th birthday.
The outcome of passing this act will help mitigate racism inherent to the DC justice system. Quantitative data demonstrates that the policing system unfairly targets black Americans. The racial group experiencing the lease amount of justifiable stops by police is Black Americans. Despite being a racial minority, 89% of minors stopped by police are black youths, and they are stopped at ten times the rate of white youths. Alarmingly, quantitative data also exemplifies that racial inequality increases at each step of the DC Justice system, all the way to peak at the sentencing procedures. The aftermath of the Second Look Amendment of 2019 will ensure that those who experienced injustice in the past and paid the price through long prison sentences will now have an opportunity to enter and rebuild in the outside world.
Another racial group that is negatively impacted is the Hispanic/Latinx community. As of 2021, data shows that Latinx youth were 28% more likely to be sentenced to juvenile facilities than that of white youth. The passage of the act will help mitigate the numbers of the Latinx community behind bars for offenses committed a young age, which a court will review if they still pose a danger before release.
Nearly everyone can agree that they are a different person as a middle aged adult than they were as a young adult or a teenager. The Act is forward looking that takes a close look at prison costs and also prioritizes rehabilitation over incapacitation. Steps in this direction will likely increase trust in the police and the justice system. The reduction in prison costs due to reduced sentences and early releases will benefit other initiatives that are in desperate need of funding, such as education or construction, which will better increase society’s efficiency. There are many different opinions about punishment and prison within America. What almost everyone can agree on is prison’s ultimate role to best serve society, so why not pass even more legislation that caters to that need?