Pete was 16 and living in Washington DC. He was already involved with drugs and violence in his neighborhood. He figured the way out of any trouble was through fighting. When confronted by another guy who pulled out a meat cleaver from his pocket, Pete started shooting and killed the guy. He was sentenced to 35 years to life. He was put in a cell with nothing to do. No TV. Nothing. He had no future until the Washington District of Columbia passed the IRAA.
Remember the 2009 study that came out about brain development not being over until an individual reaches somewhere in the mid 20s? The prefrontal cortex, responsible for reasoning, planning, judgement and impulse control does not mature until a person is about 25.
Big questions for the criminal justice system and sentencing involve constructs like premeditation and intent. Based on the brain study, wheels turned and in 2017 the Washington DC Council passed the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act (IRAA), which allows offenders who were convicted as a minor to appeal an extreme sentence. In 2021, the council further enacted the Second Look Amendment Act, which allowed those convicted though age 25 to appeal their sentences.
But what about the rights of victims and their families? And really, in moments of passion, who doesn’t go crazy? At what age should we reduce a sentence?
The Washington DC IRAA and Second Chance legislation are serving as models for other states to examine and consider. In “District of Second Chances,” outstanding director/producer Wynette Yao focuses on three men, including Pete, who committed murder in their youth and received life sentences. She follows them in prison, through their appeal and then once they are released.
Yao considers many questions. Are the men truly rehabilitated? Are they still a danger to society? What support was given to them upon their freedom? Were they remorseful? Were they able to get jobs and fit into the community? What is the reaction amongst victims’ families?
Produced by FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums), “District of Second Chances” is an outstanding film that hopes to educate, change policy and humanize the incarcerated. Founded in 1991, FAMM wants “to create a more fair and effective justice system that respects our American values of individual accountability and dignity while keeping our communities safe” (https://famm.org/about-us/our-mission/).
Director/Producer: Wynette Yao
Featuring: Anthony “Pete” Petty, Colie Levar Long and Gene Downing
Cinematographer/Editor: Travis Edwards
Executive Producer: Kevin Ring
Produced by the FAMM Foundation
FAMM Website: https://famm.org/about-us/our-mission/
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