United States

Early Prison Release Law Divides DC Leaders

A law proposed in D.C. that would allow hundreds of convicted felons to apply for early release from prison has city leaders divided.

Currently, a law allows felons — including convicted murderers — who committed their crimes before they were 18 years old to apply for early release after serving 15 years. An amendment would allow anyone who committed their crimes at age 24 or younger to apply.

Kareem McCraney was 17 years old when he shot a 22-year-old man to death. He was sentenced to 35 years to life in prison and thought he’d never get out. Thanks to the law, he got out last year, 15 years before he otherwise would have been eligible for parole.

“I’m nowhere near the person that I was when I was a child,” he said. “I’m a grown man now, and my whole life is different.”

Since the law took effect, about 20 felons have been returned home, according to James Zeigler, who represents some of the men.

“Not only are they all staying out of trouble, but they are pretty consistently involved in the community in a positive way,” he said.

McCraney mentors at-risk youths in Ward 8.

Supporters of the law say that’s why they want to expand it.

While Deputy Mayor Kevin Donahue, Attorney General Karl Racine and the majority of the D.C. Council support the amendment, U.S. Attorney Jessie Lie and Police Chief Peter Newsham oppose it. Mayor Muriel Bowser is noncommittal, saying the victims’ voices must be raised.

“Nobody is representing the victims, the person who lost a loved one,” she said.

Last year, Melody Brown, whose husband was murdered 35 years ago by a 16-year-old boy, testified in support of allowing her husband’s killer to leave prison and return home.

“Everybody doesn’t deserve to come home, but depending on the case the background, how young they were,” she said.

McCraney hopes lawmakers will give young felons the second chance he got.

“A lot of these people have taken from the community, but they want to give back to the community,” he said.

The U.S. attorney held a public forum on the legislation Thursday evening.

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