GLAA Addresses Truth In Sentencing Commission

Testimony of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
Before the Truth In Sentencing Commission

December 9, 1997

Good afternoon. I am Rick Rosendall, President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, which has been fighting for equal justice under law for gay men and lesbians in this city since 1971. Welcome to our Council chambers, and thank you for the opportunity to give you our views.

First, may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if ever I stop defending Home Rule. Home Rule is one of GLAA's first principles, and it has served us well. GLAA has worked with the DC Council since the advent of Home Rule to fashion and reform our city's criminal code. All that good work should not be thrown away.

I am instructed in this by a story that has been passed down about a kidnapped African prince, who has recently become a lot more famous because of Hollywood. When the Supreme Court handed down its ruling liberating him and his compatriots, Cinqué reacted with understandable skepticism. He looked at the document that had been handed to him, and he said, "Paper sometimes lies." Indeed. Calling something the "National Capital Revitalization and Self Government Improvement Act" does not make it so.

If you are not going to refuse to carry out your charge from Congress and the President, then at least you should seek to do no harm, and respect home rule. The DC Council is directly answerable to the voters of the District, and you should defer to them as much as possible. I want to thank Margaret Quick and Robert Wilkins [two members of the Commission who have strongly defended Home Rule] for their comments in this regard.

Given our levels of incarceration, the District can hardly be said to be coddling criminals. I want to thank my friend and councilmember Jack Evans [a commission member] for pointing out that the existing sentencing structure was indeed working. It is hard to see why we should be fixing something that isn't broken.

Second, we urge you to make recommendations only on Section H felonies, and not to go beyond what is required by the Act.

Third, do not increase or lock in place the racial disparities already prevalent in the criminal justice system. GLAA is strongly committed to the principle of nondiscrimination embodied in the DC Human Rights law. Our constituency is a diverse one that crosses all of the other lines of difference in our city, from east of the Anacostia to west of Rock Creek. There must be no red-lining in the administration of justice.

Fourth, the proposal by Eric Holder [a Clinton administration representative on the Truth In Sentencing Commission] would effectively repeal the District's Medical and Geriatric Parole Act, DC Code §24-261. Humane treatment of terminally ill patients, when consistent with public safety, can ease the burden on the corrections system and should be preserved.

Finally: More than truth in sentencing, we need wisdom in sentencing. Justice should be a firm and thoughtful hand, not a mindlessly clenched fist.

Thank you.

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