DC Justice Lab is a team of law and policy experts researching, organizing, and advocating for large-scale changes to the District of Columbia’s criminal legal system. We develop smarter safety solutions that are evidence-driven, community-rooted, and racially just. We aim to fully transform the District’s approach to public safety and make it a national leader in justice reform.
In 2022, DC’s Criminal Code Reform Commission completed its more than 16 years of work modernizing DC’s badly outdated penal code. The Reform Commission’s final bill—the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022—established fairness, proportionality, and clarification in the criminal code.
Criminal justice and public safety reform advocates, like D.C. Justice Lab, needed to understand how District voters would feel about the update so City Council members could effectively advocate for it. D.C. Justice Lab commissioned HIT to determine District voters’ attitudes on criminal justice reform and their level of support for the RCCA and its provisions.
In April 2022, HIT conducted a poll of 500 registered District voters to answer these questions. The poll was used as a proof point to mobilize support for the RCCA in the City Council and to fight Congressional opposition to the legislation.
- We asked respondents about their overall support for criminal justice reform and the values they wanted to see in DC’s criminal code.
- We gave respondents simple descriptions of the RCCA and its individual provisions and asked them whether they supported or opposed these policies.
2022: Mobilizing Support in DC
- We provided DC Justice Lab with a polling memo and a graphics product that highlighted District voters’ overwhelming (83%) support for the RCCA as a package, its individual provisions, and their broad support for fairness in the criminal code.
- DC Justice Lab used these deliverables to advocate effectively for the RCCA. The polling memo helped inform DC Justice Lab’s effort to build Council support for the RCCA. They could show Councilmembers, for example, what percentage of voters in their ward supported the bill.
- The Council enacted the law in January 2023, and only one council member voted against it.
2023: Fighting Headwinds
- As Congress misled the public in its (ultimately successful), push to block the RCCA, DC Justice Lab was a leading voice in opposing the federal effort. They affirmed that a strong majority of DC voters wanted a common-sense update to their century-old criminal code.
- HIT Strategies supported DC Justice Lab’s efforts to re-insert District voters’ attitudes into the national conversation dominated by national party politics. In partnership with DC Justice Lab, HIT strategies enacted a communication plan to inject the poll into media and online conversations. The plan included a press release that generated news stories showing that 83% of DC voters supported the RCCA and created new graphics to bolster online and social media outreach. The Hill Newspaper covered the poll, and two major news aggregation websites, Yahoo News and MSN News, re-shared the article.