The District of Columbia Council passed legislation Tuesday that would give people who committed crimes as young adults a chance to have their sentences reduced. The bill reflects a debate over whether offenders in their late teens and early 20s should be treated the same as older people when it comes to sentencing, the New York Times reports. The measure would authorize judges to determine whether offenders who were younger than 25 at the time of their crimes and have served at least 15 years deserve early release. Opponents say the legislation could free hundreds of violent criminals. Supporters say it would align the criminal justice system with research that indicates those in their late teens and early 20s lack complete brain maturity and deserve to be treated more leniently than older adults.
Mayor Muriel Bowser has criticized the bill, but the 12-to-1 vote would be enough to override any veto. The bill does not exclude offenders convicted of especially violent crimes. A Justice Department review says many who would be eligible for sentencing reductions were convicted of murder and sex crimes. The D.C. police department suggested that the legislation could provide for the early release of “hundreds of violent gun offenders.” Illinois enacted similar legislation in 2019 that allowed inmates who committed crimes when they under 21 to apply for release on parole after 10 years. Charles Allen, chairman of the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, estimated that 300 offenders would be eligible for release. He suspected that those who would benefit would be overwhelmingly Black, a reflection of what he perceived as racial biases in the criminal justice system that partly guided the legislation.The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional, citing evidence adolescent brains were not fully mature.