Feb 22
Free DC! - Statehood Now!
Forum on Defederalizing D.C.'s Criminal Justice System E-mail

On Thursday, November 30, 2017, a forum on how to transfer back to the people of D.C. the District's criminal justice system, which is now completely under federal control, was held at the University of the District of Columbia David Clarke Law School.

Unlike all states and the jurisdictions within them, the U.S. Attorney for D.C., who is appointed by the President with the consent of the U.S. Senate, prosecutes District crimes. As with all other all U.S. Attorneys, the Attorney General of the United States oversees the U.S. Attorney for D.C, not the Mayor of D.C.  or the D.C. Council.Thus, U.S. Attorney responds to federal concerns and policies regarding the exercise of his or her prosecutorial powers.

Similarly, all the judges in D.C's court system (D.C. Superior Court and D.C. Court of Appeals) are also appointed by the President with the consent of the U.S. Senate. When the Senate slows down its approval of federal judges because of some Federal policy concerns, it usually affects whether D.C. vacancies are filled.This has major ramifications on whether District residents can get a speedy trial. D.C. prisoners also go to Federal prisons, often a long way from their homes, which weakens ties with their families and makes re-entry into society much more difficult.

Although the Metropolitan Police Force reports to the Mayor and is responsive to the people of D.C., the Federal government controls D.C.'s Parole BoardProbation Agency and Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. This bifurcation of responsibilities leads to a lot of problems. In her farewell press conference, former Police Chief Cathy Lanier noted her frustration with so much of our criminal justice system being under the federal government and outside local control. She said that “(t)he criminal justice system in this city is broken. It is beyond broken.” She was talking about this bifurcation of control over essential criminal justice functions and the lack of coordination to which that leads

These issues were discussed by:

Johnny Barnes: Former Executive Director of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, livingwiththelaw.com

Avis Buchanan: Director, Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, www.pdsdc.org

Louis Sawyer: Chair, Reentry Task Force

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has introduced a number of bills in the House that would defederalize many of these criminal justice entities. When the residential and commercial areas of the current District become a state, we would take over these functions. It is important that we begin planning now and even begin transferring some or all of these functions to our local government. Please come and learn more about the issues and help us plan how to transition to statehood with full local control of our criminal justice system.

The forum focused on the parole board. Currently the U.S. Parole Commission oversees parole issue for D.C. inmates who have been convicted of crimes under D.C. law.  The federal law authorizing them to do this expires in November 2018 so this would be an opportune time to seek to get Congress to transfer this responsibility back to the District Government.

To hear a detailed analysis of the issue and its mpact D.C. prisioners, go to:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1XHn1zUcVY. The forum lasted 1 hour and 40  minutes.