You’d think the following statements would seem like common sense—especially to a D.C. Superior Court judge: “Consider all relevant factors, including present prison time served, when fashioning a determinate prison sentence.” And: “Sentences exceeding the longest possible time an offender currently stays in prison…should be reserved for the worst offenders.” But this spring, as the D.C. Advisory Commission on Sentencing prepared a report proposing drastic overhauls to the District’s criminal justice system, lawyers from D.C.’s Public Defenders Service (PDS) decided not to take any chances. As the dissenting voices on a commission whose majority favored longer prison sentences, the lawyers fought to include the seemingly obvious directives. “[The language] is pretty mild,” admits the PDS’s Robert Wilkins. “It’s a last-ditch attempt on our part to convince the [D.C.] Council to take at least a mild step in ensuring that we don’t lock people up for even longer periods of time.” The report, which was presented to the D.C. Council April 5, urges D.C. to end parole and make offenders serve 85 percent of their sentences, among other things. The council is expected to approve the recommendations next month. Even though the PDS’s contributions seem small, Wilkins says they’ll help. “It’s important, because it would make the council’s intent clear and explicit,” he says. “It won’t be something judges forget about as time passes and new judges come on board.” —Annys Shin

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