This is testimony I gave at a recent hearing on the ACTIVE Act, another piece of legislation regarding the criminal legal system that falls far short of what is truly needed.
Thank you for holding this hearing today and for allowing me to testify. My name is Bill Mefford, and I am the Executive Director of the Festival Center. We are a faith-based community center providing affordable housing to 18 nonprofits and justice-seeking organizations, which serve the residents of DC and beyond.
At the Festival Center we believe that all people are created in the image of God and thus, should be treated with dignity and respect. We believe all people have been gifted with vital gifts to contribute to the well-being of all of society.
We also believe that all people have the right to live in a free and safe society. Crime disrupts a free and safe society and causes harm. To repair the harm done to individuals and communities we need a justice system that is focused on healing, appropriate accountability, and restoration. Healing becomes accessible as safety and security are restored and the broken bonds of mutuality are mended. Those who commit crimes must be held accountable through making amends to those they have harmed, and they must be given the opportunity to return to their full place in society.
For these reasons and more I urge the Council to not pass nor include in any omnibus legislation the ACTIVE Act, which will actually make DC less safe. Though federal, state, and local governments have consistently passed laws to make the criminal legal system more retributive over the last fifty years, this has not led to a safer or freer society. Systems of retribution breed only more violence and isolation. It is true that we cannot punish or incarcerate ourselves to a safer or freer society. It is time we do away with ideas that lead to retribution and we carefully and thoughtfully consider reforms that bring healing and restoration.
I fear that the ACTIVE Amendment Act will reduce safety and compromise civil rights and lead to more retribution. Specifically, this legislation would allow the police to search certain people without a warrant and without cause. While there is language that states this provision is not meant for police harassment, there is high likelihood that this would indeed be the result. History shows that these searches would impact Black residents the most. According to a 2020 ACLU report, the police stopped and searched Black residents nearly 75% of the time even though they make up only 46% of the population.
The ACTIVE Act also expands pretrial detention. The truth is that pretrial release is not a cause for the rise in crime in DC. 92% of those released from pretrial detention are not rearrested and only 1% are rearrested for a violent offense.
Instead of taking away peoples’ civil rights through pretrial detention and warrantless searches, I urge the Council to carefully consider the recommendations put forward by the Police Reform Commission. The recommendations included:
- Investing in local communities,
- Handling crises with specialized skill and compassion rather than through blunt force,
- Reinforcing the importance of de-escalation, and
- Policing through an empathy-first model.
All of these recommendations will lead to a safer and freer DC – and that is something I know we all want. Thank you so much for your service to the District and thank you for letting me testify.