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The Top 5 Criminal Justice Reforms of 2018

W. Scott Cole

Posted on December 25, 2018 11:59

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The year showed both improvement and promise for the coming years in criminal justice reform. This is my take on the best of what happened both in various legislatures and at the voting booth.

5. The Right To Vote.                                                                                                                            

Florida restored the right to vote to many ex-felons. Previously, if you were convicted of any felony, you lost the right to vote forever. Even if your felony was 10, 20, even 30 years in the past and you had lived a law-abiding life from that point on, you couldn’t vote in any election, federal or state. More than one million people have now had that right restored. Only those that were convicted of murder and sexual offenses are now forbidden to vote. Kentucky and Iowa are the only states left that completely forbid a felon who has served his entire sentence from voting.

4. The Right to a Unanimous Jury.                                                                                               

Louisiana voted to require a unanimous jury in order to convict a defendant of felony charges. Previously, a defendant there could be found guilty with only 10 votes. That leaves Oregon as the last state that allows a non-unanimous jury to send a person to prison. I believe it is easy to see how the odds of an innocent defendant being found guilty can skyrocket if the jury doesn’t have to be unanimous.

3. The War against Mass Incarceration.                                                                                          

Suffolk County, Massachusetts elected their first black female District Attorney. This is important because (other than the obvious reasons) she was elected in part for her promises not to prosecute 15 low-level offenses, including trespassing and possession of drugs with intent to distribute. Commitments like this are a visible sign of a growing movement of elected officials toward ending the mass incarceration mindset of our country, which has resulted in the U.S. holding the most people in prison in the world, both as a percentage of the population and in raw numbers.

2. The Great Connecticut Prison Experiment.                                                                                     

The warden of a prison in Chester started a program three years ago that could become a model for the nation. He paired older inmates with younger ones in a unit of their own and let them create a unit unlike any in the country. The older inmates turned the unit into a temple of self-improvement. After three years, disciplinary issues with the unit are almost non-existent and one guard has been heard to say he felt more like a camp counselor than a prison guard. It is too soon to tell how well the experiment will work, but at this point, of the nine graduates of the program that have been released, only one has returned, and that was for a technical issue.

1. The First Step Act.                                                                                                                               

This month, the First Step Act was finally passed and signed into law. It is the largest and most comprehensive reform legislation to come out of the U.S. Congress in some time. It changes the way many sentences are served and allows a path for thousands of inmates to be released from prison early, as well as making sentences more equitable and, in some cases less severe than they used to be.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on December 25, 2018 11:59

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