As shootings and homicides mount in Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier is focusing on repeat violent offenders as key contributors, reigniting a perennial debate in criminal justice over whether some violent offenders are getting out of prison too soon or are not getting long enough sentences, the Washington Post reports. Authorities contend that too many convicts are back on the streets by way of lenient sentences, probation, parole and diversion programs designed to cull the prison population. Some experts say it is too early to generalize about causes of the recent increase in violent crime in some big cities. At an Aug. 3 meeting of the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), Lanier called for a national review to ensure that only truly nonviolent offenders are eligible for diversion programs. She said that the 50 people who have D.C.’s most gun convictions racked up a total of 849 prior arrests. She said 10 homicides this year involved previously known violent offenders who had been recently released from prison.
Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group for justice reform, said the U.S. “has been locking up both violent offenders and nonviolent offenders at record rates for a number of decades. There is a growing consensus that we're well past the point of diminishing returns for public safety.” Police officials say they are seeing more suspects with criminal records and attribute a homicide rise in two dozen cities partly to repeat offenders. “Our cities are dealing with a very small group of people who are committing the vast majority of the crimes,” said Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, head of MCCA. He said those being released “are coming into a community without the skills they need” to avoid returning to crime. He said nonviolent offenders need to be carefully screened. “We have individuals we arrest for shoplifting or breaking into a car, but look at what they've been involved with in the past 10 or 15 years, and you find they've been arrested three times for armed robbery,” he said.