Changing our Parole System

Petition to the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser

We are incarcerated District of Columbia residents scattered across the country in the bowels of the federal Bureau of Prisons (and in the District jail), but very much still a part of this city/soon-to-be-state. And when it comes to our future and, in turn, the well-being of our families, we want to have a say.

Today, our focus is the more than 1,000 individuals who were sentenced before 2000 to indeterminate sentences and whose freedom is thus subject to the whims of the U.S. Parole Commission. Although the USPC refuses to make statistics on its rulings publicly available, we know that the vast majority are denied parole when they first become eligible, often forced to return in one, three or even five years (sometimes repeatedly) in their bid for release.

Currently, there is a morass of confusing guidelines governing how to decide who should be released, dependent on when we committed our crimes. All of them penalize us for the nature of the crime we committed more than 20 years previously, when release should be based on how we have changed and who we are today. However, even those individuals whose assessment score indicates they should be released are too often rejected when the hearing examiners overrule the findings and reject their release based on their personal biases.

It’s time for change

When we have paid our debt to society, we deserve to be treated with dignity and fairness, rather than tortured by dangling the potential for freedom, then snatching it away. We, our families who need our support and the communities to which we could be contributing deserve more than this.

There appears to be a consensus at both the federal and local level that control over the parole of District residents should be transferred to a body accountable to the people of D.C. The USPC, which has very little work outside of its oversight of District residents (since federal prisoners are not eligible for parole), is set to cease operations at the end of 2022 unless it is re-authorized by Congress. Congresswoman Elenore Holmes-Norton is ready to advance federal legislation to transfer the work of the USPC to the District of Colombia–but only if the D.C. government shows it is serious about taking it on.

What is required now is for Mayor Muriel Bowser’s 2022 budget to include sufficient funds for the transfer and for the D.C. Council to pass legislation laying out how parole will operate locally.

This has not happened, and time is running out. These D.C. citizens, now wasting their time behind bars, must not be betrayed with inaction.

What We Want

Two models have been proposed for operation of local parole and we hear that a lack of consensus over which to choose has paralyzed the process. So, we speak now about our own desires, because we represent those who have the most to lose.

One proposal is to transfer the power to decide which District residents to parole to the D.C. Superior Court—once again, a federal body, since D.C. is not yet a state. This would seem to send the wrong signal to Congress, since everyone in and from D.C. wants statehood.

The other option that has been put forth is to create a local parole board, made up of members appointed by the D.C. government.

We have been given no reason to trust either process and thus many of us would simply prefer to be treated in a manner similar to our brothers and sisters who committed their crimes after the year 2000. That means converting our indeterminate sentences (such as 30 years to life) to determinate ones (30 years), with a 15% reduction possible in return for “good time.”

However, since that option is not on the table, our collective opinion is as follows:

  • The most important requirement is that the parole process, no matter what form it takes, be governed by the presumption of release. The nature of the original crime is not relevant; rather, what must be shown in order to defend further incarceration is substantive evidence of a lack of rehabilitation and a real risk of public harm. The question must be, “why shouldn’t we release him or her?” not “why should we?”
  • It is not possible to answer this question without an informed assessment of the extent of an individual’s rehabilitation. It this imperative that leads us to support a local board vs. a judge as the decision-maker. One of the most misunderstood factors that must be considered is an incarcerated individual’s disciplinary record. It is a fact that high-security American prisons, where most parole-eligible individuals are held, are so harsh, isolating and dysfunctional in their culture that it is almost impossible to survive without incurring some number of infractions. Only a person who has served time themselves can understand this reality and thus more accurately assess the significance of the infractions in a petitioner’s record. Thus, we call for a local board that includes at least one returned citizen, along with a psychologist with experience in carceral settings.

We, the undersigned, call on the District Council to:

  • Pass enabling legislation to create a D.C. Parole Board that operates with the presumption of release and includes at least one returned citizen.
  • Work with Mayor Muriel Bowser to include sufficient funds in the FY 2022 budget to finance the board’s start up and operation for a full year.

Human lives are at stake. Show us that you mean it when you say Black Lives Matter.

Duane Allen 10946-007
Jonathan Austin 10418-007
Lyndon Banks 18038-007
Robert Barton 08909-007
Alphonso Blake 08083-007
Alfonzer Blanks 02973-509
Michael Boone 05684-000
Richard Bracey 04517-000
Antwan Buchanan 06446-007
Darryl Bullock 36669-007
Yusuf Bush 10320-007
Sean Carter 43009-007
Thomas Carter 34111-037
Sanquan Caterer 06680-748
Ryan Cervantes 16880-046
Demanta Chappell 56958-007
Nathan Clipper 45892-007
Thomas Cole 11450-007
Dejaune Coleman 59061-007
Anthony Collier 09402-007
Lewis Collins Jr. 06274-007
Russell Crawford 04618-007
Angelo Daniels 04824-000
Anthony Davis 32037-037
Michael Davis-Bey 12186-007
Gene Downing 03912-007
Gezo Edwards-El 24815-016
Eric Fisher 05216-000
Deangelo Foote 39225-007
James Fowler 58836-066
Ivery Gardner 04362-007
Tony Gay 35312-068
Jonathan Godoy 86010-083
Joseph Gray 11028-007
Kevin Grover 43624-007
Jeron Guffey 09893-007
Curlee Hall 12571-007
Anton Harris 81450-083
Gregory Harris 71252-067
Mark Harris 24599-077
Earlie W. Henderson-Bey 00608-707
Adonte Henry 53245-037
Ron Herndon 03534-007
Reginald Hicks 10247-007
Antoine Hill 44466-007
Denardo Hopkins 45392-007
Kevin Jackson 31145-007
James Joseph 32507-007
Gregory Kelly 09356-007
William King 41870-037
Antonio Kingsbury 52393-007
Toussaint Kirkland 07912-007
Andre Lane 12572-007
Allen Lawrence 15622-016
Walter Lingard 99356-071
Colie Levar Long 269265
Darryl Malloy 65331-007
Marcus Martin 38109-007
Stephen McCormick 11870-007
David Moore 36106-007
Javonte Moore 68075-037
Kobi Mowatt (20464-016)
Damarius Morris 67273-056
Jeremiah Mungo 11962-007
George Owens 32072-037
Lamont Peete 09635-007
Corey Reid 40342-007
Joseph Robinson 35442-037
James Rogers 27977-037
Wendell Roy 04610-000
James Rushing 05370-748
Marvin Sanders 32623-037
Calvin Shaw 41023-007
Clifton Smith 45892-007
Raymond Smith 05304-000
Maxie Stevens 60403-007
Lionel Stoddard 31903-007
Jerome Stroud 35190-007
Darius Styles 45155-007
Eric Thomas 33858-007
Michael Thomas 05887-007
Solothal Thomas 41347-037
Michael Timms 37906-007
Maurice Tyree 33159-007
Omar van Hagan 09409-007
Bruce E. Void-El 05882-007
Ronald Washington 03877-007
Marc Weathers 21267-016
Lawrence White 06599-007
Trequan Whitley 81320-016
Anthony Williams 49516-007
Davon Williams 38829-007
Delonte Williams 43156-007
Shikym Williams 23805-171
Johnny (John) Wilson 09408-007
Rayfield Wilson 18320-016
Jerrell Wooten 09343-007

Further background

In 1997, D.C. was in financial peril and the U.S. Congress passed the D.C. Revitalization Act to bail it out. Amongst other things, the act transferred control of the District’s criminal law enforcement from local agencies to the federal government. All D.C. residents were transferred to the federal Bureau of Prisons, whose facilities are scattered far and wide across the country. The Revitalization Act also abolished the D.C. Board of Parole and transferred all of its responsibilities to the U.S. Parole Commission.

This shift in power mandated that the D.C. government could no longer alter its own laws governing parole without the approval of the U.S. attorney general. In addition, the U.S. Parole Commission gained control over two basic functions that were formerly handled by the D.C. board. The first is that of determining who will be granted release on parole and when. The second is to supervise those who are released, which includes the power to re-incarcerate individuals for any violations. (Today, more than 80% of the U.S. Parole Commission’s total caseload is made up of D.C. residents, and the district government has no influence on the decisions.)

At around the same time, in 2000, parole was abolished altogether for any D.C. resident convicted after that year–following the lead of the federal government. Only those convicted earlier may seek parole today. To partially redress this inequity, as well as relieve overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic, the D.C. Council passed a law in April 2020 allowing persons sentenced between June 22, 1994 (when the possibility of sentence reductions in return for good conduct was repealed), and Aug. 4, 2000 (when the district abolished parole), to retroactively benefit from good-conduct credit, up to 54 days per year—thus making them eligible for early parole. However, as documented below, the USPC has a dismal track record.

The members on the U.S. Parole Commission are appointed by the president and the appointees are not required to have any connection to or residency in D.C. They also have no accountability to any D.C. agency or court. Yet, when these individuals are released, they will most likely return to community in which they lived before incarceration. Residents of the District of Columbia have the strongest interest in supporting returning citizens.

In addition, cutting D.C. out of the parole “bakes in” injustice.  The U.S. Parole Commission typically bases its parole decisions on the nature of the original offense rather than on an assessment of rehabilitation and potential risk of release.

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs reported in 2018 that of the 4,700 D.C. prisoners held in federal prisons, about 1,300 who were sentenced before 2000 were eligible for parole but have been denied release by the USPC. Another 1,700 or more D.C. prisoners were being held at that time on parole/supervised release violations. These men and women had been incarcerated by the USPC for technical violations of parole rules, not for breaking the law. Additionally, about one-third of the D.C. jail population was being held in 2018 on parole/supervised-release violations. Since then, the USPC has refused to hold itself accountable by releasing statistics on its performance. However, the Justice Policy Institute wrote in a 2019 report that it had received “frequent complaints that the commission systematically denies parole based on the severity of an individual’s original offense, rather than on evidence of a person’s progress toward rehabilitation…Another common complaint is that the USPC seldom identifies a path forward for those persons who are denied parole. Little guidance is given about what steps can be taken to mitigate the factors that led to the denial.” The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs concludes this: “The USPC has become a driver of mass incarceration. The decisions of the USPC have been far harsher than those of the former D.C. Board of Parole, with hundreds of district prisoners denied parole under punitive parole decision-making practices.” D.C. Representative Eleanore Holmes Norton  is ready to advance legislation to transfer the USPC functions to the District of Columbia. If enacted, HR 8890 (the District of Columbia Parole and Supervised Release Act) would end the USPC’s mandate over District residents Oct. 31, 2022, and full authority for parole and supervised released would be transferred back to D.C.