The DC Superior Court is granting second chances to prisoners under the Second Look Amendment Act (SLAA), which went into effect on April 27, 2021. This act is an update to the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act (IRAA) and expands eligibility for reduced sentences to individuals who were under 25 years old at the time of their crime and have served at least 15 years of their sentence.
Previously, IRAA allowed individuals who were under 18 at the time of their crime to seek a reduced sentence after serving at least 15 years in prison. The SLAA extends this opportunity to those who were under 25 at the time of their offense.
Many of the prisoners affected by this law were convicted of murder, often related to gang activity or involvement in criminal youth groups in the greater Washington DC area. The SLAA now allows DC Superior Court judges to evaluate whether these individuals deserve a reduced sentence.
Prison records show that some of these prisoners have made remarkable changes during their incarceration. Many started their prison terms at the now-closed Lorton Correctional Complex, which was known for its history of abuses and overcrowding. They were then transferred to various facilities across the United States under the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
Attorneys from the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia and law clinics at universities represent these prisoners and present their cases to the court. Many of the prisoners have taken self-improvement classes while in prison, despite the challenges posed by gang presence and the discouragement of peers.
Family and friends play a crucial role in supporting the successful reentry of these prisoners. For those lacking such support, the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs (MORCA) in Washington DC helps connect them to essential programs and services in areas such as employment, health, education, housing assistance, and social services.
The SLAA is part of a broader trend in both state and federal governments to address the high costs and social implications of long prison terms. The First Step Act (FSA), signed by President Donald Trump in 2018, allows prisoners to earn time off their sentences through participation in self-improvement programming. The US Sentencing Commission has also passed amendments that will allow some prisoners serving long sentences to be considered for release under compassionate release, starting in November 2023.