What You Should Know About the DC Revised Criminal Code Act

The whole point of the DC Revised Criminal Code Act (RCCA) is to make DC safer and more just. We realize there’s a ton of misinformation going around about it – so here’s what you should know at a glance. Please reach out any time with questions and if we can be helpful.

1) DELIBERATE 16-YEAR PROCESS: The Revised Criminal Code Act is the result of a deliberate and collaborative 16-year process, including extensive research and input from law enforcement, academics, public defenders, DC residents, and many others.

  • The Revised Criminal Code Act (RCCA) is the result of a 16-year collaborative process led by The D.C. Criminal Code Reform Commission, an independent, non-partisan agency.
  • The Commission engaged in extensive legal and scholarly research of D.C. laws and other jurisdictions, and conducted an in-depth analysis of sentencing data from D.C. courts.
  • The Commission received ongoing input from an Advisory Group, a diverse body that included representatives from the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, the Public Defender Service for D.C, the D.C. Council, and the Mayor’s office, as well as law professors.
  • The Commission held more than 50 public meetings and conducted surveys of hundreds of D.C. residents, before unanimously voting to advance its recommendations to the D.C. Council.
  • After nearly two additional years of negotiation and consideration in the Council, the RCCA advanced to Congress.

2) FULL OVERHAUL: This RCCA is a long-overdue and desperately needed full overhaul of DC’s vague and inconsistent 120-year old code to make it clear, consistent, and constitutional.

  • The District of Columbia’s 120-year old criminal code is outdated, contains vague and unconstitutional provisions, and inconsistent penalties. The lack of clarity and consistency leads to wasted resources from arrest to sentencing, perpetuates racial disparities, and erodes justice and public safety.
  • DC’s current criminal code represents a failed status quo. The city has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country and one of the highest incarceration rates of Black residents. Its overly broad sentencing ranges and unclear definitions breed bias and result in unnecessarily long sentences in many instances. The RCCA seeks to remedy these issues long overdue for reform.
  • Most states have undergone similar overhauls – including many Republican states. Many have based their codes on the Model Penal Code, which is exactly what DC has done with the RCCA.

3) MORE CONSISTENCY & PROPORTIONALITY IN SENTENCING: DC’s RCCA is a modest reform that takes the latest evidence into account about how to safely reduce incarceration while also, for many serious crimes, creating new penalties and increasing punishment.

  • The RCCA’s sentencing reforms are based on extensive study of current sentencing practices in D.C. and other jurisdictions and the evidence about how to safely reduce incarceration. The RCCA increases penalties for a number of offenses, such as assaults against police officers and sex offenses, and quadruples the maximum penalty for attempted murder. It also reduces some less serious offenses, aligns some overly broad penalties to what judges actually impose in court, and creates new offenses to punish conduct that went unaddressed under the current law.
  • It increases judicial discretion by eliminating most mandatory minimum sentences and allowing judicial review of sentences after 20 years of incarceration. The revised code will also bring the District in line with most other states by restoring the right to a jury trial in misdemeanor cases by 2030.

4) HUGE PUBLIC SUPPORT: DC residents are overwhelmingly supportive of the RCCA, and of elected leaders who support the RCCA.

  • There is broad support among District residents for the RCCA. Results from a June 2022 poll of likely voters from the District shows that 83 percent support the RCCA and 79 percent are more likely to vote for candidates who support the RCCA.
  • The poll found that the RCCA’s individual policy reforms also receive significant support:
  • 93 percent of voters support guaranteeing the right to a jury trial for any offense that carries possible jail or prison time.
  • 85 percent support adopting Second Look resentencing for anyone who has served 15 years in prison.
  • By a 3 to 1 margin, voters also support eliminating mandatory minimums, decriminalizing minor offenses such as panhandling, and eliminating life sentences and replacing them with a maximum sentence proportionate to the offense.

5) RCCA WOULD REFORM THE FAILED STATUS QUO: The RCCA would make DC safer and more just.

  • DC residents deserve policies that truly make DC safer and more just.
  • We can reduce crime while also reducing imprisonment. Between 2010 and 2019, 37 states across the country cut both their imprisonment rates (the number of people in prison per capita) and their crime rates simultaneously. In fact, these states, including Arizona, Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and many others, reduced crime by 28% on average compared to only 18% for the states that did not reduce their imprisonment rates.
  • Years of research have found that harsher sentences do little to nothing to deter future crime, and may in fact harm public safety while wasting taxpayer dollars. A study conducted in the District of Columbia found, for instance, that each additional month of sentence length increased recidivism. Moreover, long sentences may have severe collateral consequences: one study found that each additional year in prison reduced a person’s life expectancy by two years.
  • The harms of mass incarceration are clear: it breaks families apart, destabilizes communities, and aggravates the very types of racial and economic inequality that make communities more vulnerable to gun violence. Fortunately, we also have powerful evidence about what does work to reduce crime and, in particular, gun violence. Achieving public safety for all DC residents means avoiding the failed policies of the past and, instead, choosing proven solutions, supported by data, that strengthen and protect communities.

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