« "The Death Penalty & the Dignity Clauses" | Main | Making the case that "criminal justice reform is a conservative effort" and a "moral imperative" »

May 15, 2016

Is it fair for me to worry that drug war distractions contribute to "a revolving door for violent offenders" in DC?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this lengthy new Washington Post article headlined "How an accused rapist kept getting second chances from the D.C. justice system," which is the "first installment in a series that will examine issues related to repeat violent offenders in the District of Columbia."  I am pleased to see the Post giving attention to how repeat violent offenders manage to avoid serious punishments, but I hope that the series will get around to exploring my enduring concern that repeat violent offenders can too often and too readily exploit cracks within any justice system overworked and overloaded from treating drug problems as primarily criminal justice concerns.  These enduring concerns aside, here are excerpts from the Post's story that serve as an introduction to the troubling tale that follows:

The 40-year-old woman, described in court papers as 5 feet tall and 100 pounds, suffered fractures in her eye socket and cheekbone.  The alleged perpetrator, 21-year-old Antwon Durrell Pitt, had an extensive criminal history, including eight arrests in four years and a robbery conviction. Three times, he was sentenced under laws designed to promote leniency and second chances for inexperienced adult offenders. In two of those cases, he was sentenced under the District’s Youth Rehabilitation Act, a 1980s-era law aimed at “deserving” offenders under the age of 22.

Pitt’s case shows that such laws, combined with lax enforcement by key federal agencies, can give many chances to violent offenders despite repeated criminal behavior and the failure to abide by terms of release, according to a Washington Post review of court records, transcripts and probation reports.

The D.C. criminal justice system relies on a mix of federal agencies and D.C. judges to swiftly intervene and communicate vital information to protect the public from violent offenders. In the crucial weeks before the rape, a D.C. Superior Court magistrate judge and two federal agencies — the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) and the U.S. Parole Commission — failed to work together to take Pitt off the streets.

Pitt’s behavior raised many red flags, indicating escalating risk. Just out of prison last summer after serving a robbery sentence, Pitt did not report for some of his court-ordered drug testing and anger management sessions. He did not keep in contact with his supervision officer. And in a final act of defiance, Pitt cut off the GPS monitoring bracelet affixed to his ankle and let the battery run dead. He was completely off the grid.

CSOSA, the federal agency charged with watching D.C. offenders released from prison, did not request a warrant for Pitt’s arrest for 15 days after losing contact with him. The Parole Commission waited a week after getting that request before forwarding it to law enforcement. And the magistrate judge denied a prosecutor’s request to keep Pitt behind bars, despite a troubling report from the Pretrial Services Agency. “No conditions or combination of conditions can reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance or safety to the community,” said the report that was given to magistrate William Nooter.

The District’s Youth Rehabilitation Act was passed in 1985 to give youthful adult offenders a chance to have their records wiped clean from public view if they successfully complete their sentences, even those who commit violent crimes, with the exception of murder and a second crime of violence while armed....

At a time when the Obama administration and Congress are working to ease “mandatory minimum” sentencing guidelines for non-violent offenses, in part because of concerns that such laws have unjustly imprisoned large numbers of African Americans, D.C. law enforcement officials are increasingly concerned about the number of repeat violent offenders on the streets. The District, for example, has seen a near doubling in the percentage of homicide suspects with prior gun-related arrests.  “Sometimes, we just scratch our heads,” D.C. police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said. “We feel like there’s a revolving door for violent offenders. It’s very frustrating for us because we see the victim, and we see the impact on the victim.”

May 15, 2016 at 04:46 PM | Permalink


Corporal punishment. Not just for privates or sargents but for all classes. Cut off the private parts of rapists. Cut off the hands of thieves. Cut out the tongues of liars who steal by lying.

Posted by: BarkinDog | May 16, 2016 8:58:40 AM

Offense #2 is a “repeat” •

“Night & Fog“ to a remote place in Siberia would tend to diminish re-repeat offenses in DC •

Of course if the intended victim(s) were able to stop the initial attack by any* lawful means available to also prevent future attacks , e.g. a C4 complete spinal injury , then Night & Fog would be unnecessary •

Posted by: Docile Jim Brady „ the Nemo Me ♠ Impune Lacessit ♂ in Bend, Oregon ‼ | May 16, 2016 2:09:42 PM

▲ Monday, May 16, 2016 at 14:09 -0400 ▲

* “Any” includes the lawful trauma to cause predator’s death ‼

Fiat justitia rapax mors extrema ‼

Posted by: Docile Jim Brady „ the Nemo Me ♠ Impune Lacessit ♂ in Bend, Oregon ‼ | May 16, 2016 2:21:52 PM

Somehow I doubt, Doug, that the so-called "drug war" is impacting the District's punishment of criminals. Neat trick though--blaming the tough on crime crowd for this lenience.

This clown should spend 40 years in prison.

Posted by: federalist | May 17, 2016 9:25:34 AM

federalist, would you disgree with my belief/fear that the drug war --- much more so than the investigation, prosecution and punishment of violent criminals --- fuels perceptions (1) that police have too much power and are eager to harass people of color, (2) that too many people are punished for too long for low-level criminal behavior, and (3) that everyone ought to get multiple chance to reform even when their track records are ugly?

Keep in mind, federalist, these perceptions --- which I fear do impact the District's punishment of ALL criminals and likely prompts the "lax enforcement" bemoaned in this article --- have nothing to do with the practical reality that agencies like the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency often have to "police" substance abuse in addition to criminal activities for huge populations brought into the CJ system because of drug-related activities.

I am not here trying to "blame" the tough-on-crime crowd for anything; rather, I am simply wondering aloud whether, after having sentencing laws formally and informally treat low-level drug dealing as much more serious than crimes like robbery and assault, we should really end up all that surprised that judges and POs fail to treat sufficiently seriously crimes like robbery and assault.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 17, 2016 11:42:53 AM

Doug, there's that pivot again. At first, the concern was that "repeat violent offenders can too often and too readily exploit cracks within any justice system overworked and overloaded from treating drug problems as primarily criminal justice concerns." But DC is hardly a jurisdiction which is hard core when it comes to punishing drug users or even low-level dealers criminally. So now the concern is perceptions and maybe that some criminals' drug use has to be monitored? I don't really understand.

It seems to me that drug use among those who commit other crimes should be a concern for the Offender Supervision Agency--or are you saying that a non-drug criminal under supervision (parole, probation) who uses drugs shouldn't be a concern?

It also seems to me that your "concern" about drug dealing being treated more harshly than robbery is a thinly-veiled attempt to absolve criminal-coddling judges and agencies for their indifference to the suffering caused by preventable crimes. DC goes easy on violent criminals. It's that simple. It's immoral and shameful.

Posted by: federalist | May 18, 2016 11:40:49 AM

I am not trying to pivot, federalist, rather I am trying to better understand why, in your words, "DC goes easy on violent criminals." My supposition is that the war on drugs contributes to this problem, but perhaps you have a better explanation. I would like to hear it if you do.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 18, 2016 12:25:33 PM

Doug--going from the treatment of drug addiction as a criminal justice problem to your post is an example of the ever moving target tactic you frequently employ. The real problem in DC--they are soft on crime, and it's a huge reach to blame the "war on drugs."

Posted by: federalist | May 18, 2016 1:36:02 PM

federalist: as is too often your foolish belief/concern, the point of this post is not to allocate "blame" for criminal justice problem. Rather, my goal is to better understand the reasons behind the "real problem" in DC in how they are dealing with violent offenders. Again, I am eager to have you provide another explanation for how and why we are now coming to see, in your words, "DC go[ing] easy on violent criminals." Again, I am not looking for you to allocate blame, but rather to provide an explanation that helps me better understand how criminal justice problems arise and develop.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 19, 2016 3:38:57 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB