Vera Institute of Justice on the Senate’s Vote to Block Washington D.C.’s Criminal Code Reforms 

MARCH 8, 2023
Contact: Michael Czaczkes,, 917-285-0277

New York – Today, the Senate voted to block the D.C. Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 (RCCA). Nicholas Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice, issued the following statement:

“We are dumbfounded that the Senate gave in to misguided political considerations and fear of being labeled “soft on crime" instead of listening to the 83 percent of registered Washington D.C. voters who support the evidence-based reforms in the RCCA. While it’s not surprising that pragmatic sentencing reforms are being distorted in Congress as threats to public safety, it is deeply disappointing that these viewpoints are being propagated by the Biden administration and senators who claim to support policies that deliver both safety and justice.

The RCCA is the result of a 16-year process that is backed by evidence and research, a study of crime trends in Washington, D.C., and an analysis of how the courts currently approach sentencing. The proposed revisions are the product of robust debate and reflect the work of a diverse set of stakeholders—including the U.S. Attorney’s Office, local judges, advocates, and elected officials. Each provision, even those that are now being labeled as “dangerous” or “going too far,” are consistent with public safety and reflect existing sentencing practices in the District. For example, one of the proposed revisions, an expansion of the Second Look Amendment Act, would grant anyone at or over the age of 26 at the time of their offense an opportunity to be resentenced after serving 20 years of incarceration. This provision is already in effect in Washington, D.C. for young adults who are sentenced at or before their 25th birthday and comports with years of research on the ineffectiveness of long sentences.

Where the RCCA reduces sentencing exposure—for example, by reducing the maximum prison time on first-degree carjacking to 24 years—it reflects both the way judges in D.C. currently carry out sentences and the larger sentencing reform movement nationwide. It is irresponsible and disingenuous for the Biden administration and members of Congress to suggest that the RCCA is “going too far” or is “too lenient” on crimes like carjacking when the courts may still impose a decades-long sentence for this offense. Importantly, the RCCA revisions have won the support of victims' rights advocates, who applaud the bill’s inclusion of trauma-informed principles, prioritizing choice, empowerment, and safety of victims over excessively long sentences, which research has shown do not make us safer or reduce the likelihood of re-arrest.

Congress’s disapproval of criminal code reform is an insult to the residents of our nation’s capital and will extend a harmful and inequitable status quo that Washingtonians fought to cast aside. That the White House and Senate are carrying out this historic affront based on mischaracterizations of the RCCA is especially troubling. Political gains achieved this way are an anachronism. Worse, they are secured at the expense of D.C. residents, the principle of local autonomy, and the fight for evidence-based criminal legal system reform, which—as it happens—is what the majority of American voters truly want and expect.”


About the Vera Institute of Justice
The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit

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