There is an obscure law in our nation’s capital that gives murders, rapists, and other criminals a second (and sometimes a third or fourth) chance.
The Youth Rehabilitation Act was enacted in 1985. It’s original intent was to help “rehabilitate” teenage criminals and to protect young black offenders from the stigma of long prison sentences.
The act allows for shorter sentences, but this leniency often convinces offenders to continue and sometimes escalate their bad behavior upon release. The Washington Post reports that hundreds of criminals have been sentenced and set free under this forgiving law more than once. Here’s an example:
Shareem Hall and three cohorts broke into a home in Northeast Washington. They held the family at gunpoint before ransacking the house. Hall was caught and sentenced under the Youth Rehabilitation Act. He was released from prison less than two years later.
Hardly a year after his release, Hall and a companion shot a 22-year-old woman while committing another robbery.
“You’re telling me you can come back out on the streets and rob again, hold people hostage again, kill again – because of the Youth Act?” said the victim’s aunt.
In 2014, 18-year-old Tavon Pinkney was arrested when he stole a man’s iPad. “I wasn’t really worried,” he told The Post. “I knew they were going to let me off easy.”
Pinkney, who bragged that he had committed more than 10 robberies before his arrest, went on to shoot and kill a man 5 months after he was released from prison. He received a 17-year sentence in Pennsylvania.
As reported by The Post, roughly half of offenders under the age of 22 receive shorter sentences under the Youth Act. These sentences make up nearly 15% of all felony sentences in the DC Superior Court.
“The Youth Act makes sense for less serious crimes. For the heinous stuff, well, it’s just not going to do much good,” said Harold Brazil (D), a former DC Council member who argued to exclude most violent offenders from the Youth Act in 2000.
Since 2010, more than 120 criminals sentenced under the Youth Rehabilitation Act have gone on to commit murder. Four of these killings occurred during a time period in which he or she – under mandatory minimum sentencing laws – should still have been in jail; 30 occurred while the criminals were on probation.
Over 3,188 sentences for felony crimes were handed out under the Youth Act between January 2010 and April 2016; 73% involved weapons offenses or violent crimes. In the past decade, over 750 offenders have completed repeated short sentences under the Youth Act.
“We have a value in this city that youthful offenders should be rehabilitated,” says the District’s Democratic Mayor, Muriel E. Bowser. “But I don’t think anybody expects leniency for violent criminals.”
Briefed on The Post’s investigation, Bowser went on to say that the District’s judges, public defenders, and prosecutors have come to “misapply” the Youth Act at the expense of public safety. “We can’t have a safe city if there are no quick and certain punishments for crimes.”
The Youth Act’s success rate is unclear because the names of criminals disappear from public records if they successful complete the terms of their sentences. The program’s failures are generally kept away from the public eye, and judges are not required to track the use of the law.
Homicides in America’s 50 biggest cities shot up 17% between 2014 and 2015, including 54.3% percent in DC, 63% Baltimore, and 49% in Chicago. This violent trend contrasts sharply with the general decline in homicides we enjoyed in previous years.
A study found that for the first time in nearly ten years, crime had become DC residents’ primary concern.
Even so, DC’s Public Defender Service (PDS) continues to defend the Youth Act:
“The Youth Act is a valuable sentencing option because as the Supreme Court has recognized and science has shown, youthful offenders, compared to older adults, can have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform,” argues PDS general counsel Laura Hankins.
DC has a long record of expunging records and trying to curb juvenile crime with misguided liberal policies. In the end, it is the people of DC who suffer from these failed policies. DC Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham admits that the criminal justice system is failing to protect DC citizens.
“They will look to the police and ask us, ‘What the heck happened?’” he said. “Someone, somewhere along the line, should have done something to prevent that from happening.”
Editor’s note: Crime goes down when the laws are strict. Giuliani cleaned up New York by increasing police vigilance and not letting small crimes go unpunished. Liberals are not doing anyone any favors by being lenient on criminals, it just sends young people the message that crime pays well and that abiding by the law is for chumps.