Criminal law

Despite the backlash, voters and lawmakers continue to opt for criminal justice reform

Last month, voters in Shelby County, Tennessee, unseated a district attorney who had held office for 11 years and was known nationally for being overly punitive. Amy Werich has vigorously pursued the death penalty, fought against foster care reform, sent more children to adult courts than any other state prosecutor, and has been reprimanded in the past for prosecutorial misconduct. she also He was tried Pamela Moses, a black woman who registered to vote by mistake ended up serving six years in prison.

Voters in one of the South’s largest counties, with a population of nearly 1 million, rejected Fireish by 56 votes to 44 percent, choosing Steve Mulroy, a candidate who ran on a platform of criminal justice reform. But unless you live in or around Memphis, you probably missed this one the story. These days, there aren’t a lot of headlines promoting criminal justice reform in the national media. In contrast, you can find plenty of stories about the backlash to reform.

But the national headlines don’t tell the whole story: on the contrary, criminal legal reform continues to win in many parts of the country. The number of people imprisoned decreased 22.4 percent (or 1,588,400 fewer people) since 2010, mostly because of the hundreds of laws passed to reform the criminal legal system and elect policymakers committed to smart reforms. At the local and state levels, voters and legislators have continued this trend.

On the electoral side in 2022, voters chose candidates for correctional prosecutors from North Carolina to Tennessee, Iowa and California. Voters continue to show strong support for district attorneys who work to reduce the impact of the criminal legal system. in durham, North CarolinaProsecutor Satana Deberry had won She won her re-election primary in a landslide, despite negative attacks on her reform record, which includes bail reform and the clearing of thousands of outstanding fines and court fees. On May 17, 79% of voters chose Deberry on a promise to continue her reform policies, such as her pledge to decriminalize people seeking abortions. She is running uncontested in November.

At the same time yeahKimberly Graham also won her primary for Polk County District Attorney, promising not to prosecute for marijuana possession and not to require cash bail for low-level arrests, among other reforms. She is expected to win in November.

in California, reform attorneys representing jurisdictions larger than san francisco won their primary elections. Diana Picton was re-elected in Contra Costa on a platform of creating more justice and fairness. Former criminal defense attorney Pamela Price received the most votes in Alameda County, where she ran on a platform to address racial disparities in the criminal legal system and not to try children as adults.

in VermontChittenden (Burlington) County District Attorney Sarah George had won Her re-election is based on continuing her reformist policies, including expanding restorative justice practices, and opposing the pursuit Cash bailAnd not to pursue the arrests discovered through “Public safety traffic stopBecause it disproportionately affects people of color. It was attacked by police unions and its rival Ted Kinney, but won in Vermont’s largest county by 53% to 33%.

But it’s not just reformist prosecutors who are winning. This year we’ve also seen important victories in state legislatures, including removing barriers for previously incarcerated people to reintegrate back into society, and advancing marijuana legalization with a focus on racial justice.

Colorado had become Seventh state to pass “Clean slate” legislation, which would allow the automatic sealing of arrest records that do not lead to conviction, as well as the sealing of many other records after conviction. Similar laws have been passed in Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Utah.

Connecticut Passed A law that provides protection against discrimination for people with a criminal record. The new law prevents job licensing boards from blanket bans on groups of people based on their arrest or conviction record, and instead will require licensing boards to conduct individualized evaluations. Oklahoma has also passed reforms that include an automatic expungement bill in some cases, which is expected to affect more than 100,000 Oklahoma residents.

Legalizing marijuana still has broad public support, and in November, voters in about six states may be able to vote on legalizing marijuana. For example, in MarylandVoters will have the opportunity to activate the first-of-its-kind Cannabis Reform and Reinvestment Fund, which will allocate millions year-over-year to the communities most affected by the War on Marijuana, and also create an automatic expungement for past simple possession convictions and more.

Rhode Island Passed Legalized marijuana, and did so in a way that promoted racial justice and criminal justice reform by including an auto strike in the bill’s final language.

These are just a few examples of progress – there are many more (such as juvenile justice reform) and they won’t be the last. These newly enacted laws will not end mass incarceration; More is needed. But these successes show that voters on the right and left continue to choose criminal justice reform, and state legislators on the right and left continue to pass legislation that makes sense. And they are doing so despite a nationwide backlash. That’s the whole story of 2022.

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