Officials React to Washington Post Series on Repeat Violent Offenders: Call for Better Criminal Justice Data

Washington Post columnist Colbert King asked officials last week for responses to the paper’s series on violent offenders who committed new offenses after being returned to the community under a second-chance law.

In his column December 9, King reported the attorney general, a deputy mayor and a Council member each spoke of more information and “transparency.”

To which King (who has been writing trenchantly about District youth policies for years) replied with a hint of skepticism, “Transparency. Got it.”

Suggestions for the search for answers included more comprehensive data on all offenders sentenced under the Youth Rehabilitation Act (the Post was able to dig out records on only some) and on the extent to which sentencing decisions deviate from the objectives in the law.

The Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, Kevin Donahue, told King that “Improving transparency across the District’s unique criminal justice system is an initial, concrete step and will provide the public with information they’re entitled to receive as well as allowing our residents to hold the system accountable”; “all agencies…must commit to a system of … transparency”; and “we look forward to working with our… partners to ensure greater transparency in our criminal justice system.”

Council Member Kenyan McDuffie who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary agreed on data needs but also urged a focus on the failure of the criminal justice system to rehabilitate offenders.

All three officials said a Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee would be reviewing the series and further data. Limits of other kinds of criminal justice data in the District have been a focus of attention through the year.

In a follow-up editorial, the paper echoed the data theme, noting it is to “[the court’s] discredit that it failed to collect data on how this law has worked," but went further, calling on the D.C. Council to “revisit” the law and also for the  D.C. Superior Court to do "some soul searching” since some judges demonstrated a "lack of empathy, even callousness" towards victims' and community concerns.