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DC mayor to propose changes to pretrial detention laws

The proposal comes at a time when violent crime is up 11%, year-to-date, in DC, according to Metropolitan Police Department data.

WASHINGTON — DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office will soon introduce legislation to reform the pre-trial detention process in the District.

A spokesperson for the mayor said the legislation should be introduced either Friday or Monday.

The proposal comes at a time when violent crime is up 11%, year-to-date, in DC, according to Metropolitan Police Department data.

At a public safety summit, organized by the mayor Wednesday, Bowser said changes were needed to keep some violent criminals off the street. Currently, according to MPD Chief Robert Contee, D.C.’s law is set up in such a way that alleged suspects are typically released before their trial. 

The Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia said 85% of cases in fiscal year 2022 resulted in defendants being released prior to trial proceedings.

“Judges are mandated, they are required to release people back into the community,” Contee said. “Which happens right now, because of a law enacted in the District of Columbia back in 1992.”

Bowser said her legislation will be aimed at stopping re-offenders, people convicted of violent crimes in the past, of getting pretrial release after committing new alleged crimes in the future.

“We think the expectations in the community is if you've committed a violent crime, you’re convicted of a violent crime, and you commit another one, is that you should be detained," she said.

United States Attorney for the District of Columbia Matt Graves said he welcomes having a conversation about how to reform pretrial detention practices as it’s not been a focus in recent years.

“Candidly, that has not been where the dialogue has been over the last decade or so,” he said. “The dialogue has been over how can we have more people released because they have not been convicted."

However, some advocacy groups say they are concerned about the idea.

The group Black Lives Matter DC tweeted a critique of the proposal Wednesday.

“For the law and order folks, the Constitution is still your law so the presumption of innocence exists and is supposed to include folks who may have been arrested and/or convicted before,” the tweet reads. “This is also a direct attack on folks who have already or will be coming home. Unacceptable.”

In a statement, DC Justice Lab Executive Director Patrice Sulton said she also opposes the idea.

“Two years ago, the mayor received hundreds of recommendations that were developed with agency and community input and supported by research,” the statement reads. “It is unclear why the administration has not adopted any of the recommendations made by the District Task Force Jails & Justice, the D.C. Police Reform Commission, or the Criminal Code Reform Commission. There must be at least one strategy in these reports with which she agrees. Incarceration isn't working. We need our leadership to lead on something new.”

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