Criminal law

Three key points of criminal legal reform from the 2022 midterm elections


Voters across the political spectrum want their elected officials to support bold criminal justice reforms that reduce punishment and mass incarceration — according to polling conducted just before the midterm elections. Despite the aggressive, aggressive playbook of some candidates who tried to manipulate the offense as a wedge issue, voters largely Chose justice In any case. Although not all ballot reform initiatives were successful, voters made significant progress on many issues, including prison reform, drug policy, and prosecution reform.

Here are three key takeaways from the midterm elections and what they mean for the future of criminal legal reform.

Voters outlawed slavery from state constitutions, and redefined prison labor.

A bearded man wearing sunglasses holds a black sign with white lettering "End prison slavery" At a protest in downtown Portland, Oregon, during the National Day of Action Against Prison Slavery on the 45th anniversary of the Attica Uprising.

More than 150 years after the abolition of slavery, four states have emerged – Alabama, Oregon, TennesseeAnd Vermont They voted to eliminate language in their constitutions that allows slavery as a punishment for a crime, an exception written into the Thirteenth Amendment.

The success of these measures indicates growing support for prison reform in a country where nearly 800,000 prisoners work, often having to do so for little or no pay. These amendments are needed to strip archaic language from state constitutions and transform the criminal justice system by making all prison work voluntary. People have been incarcerated for far too long exploitation of their workMade a penny on the dollar. These victories pave the way for an end to coercion in the modern era Work in prisons and detention centers nationally.

Voters are upset about the war on drugs.

And after the midterm elections this year, 21 states have legalized marijuana. The tide for nationwide legalization and decriminalization continues to grow. voters in Maryland Legalized marijuana, including an automatic expungement clause to remove previous marijuana possession convictions, which will improve people’s lives so they are not burdened with a criminal record. Despite the drug policy’s losses Arkansas, North DakotaAnd South DakotaHowever, there are still many important victories in places where voters lean increasingly conservative. Missouri legal marijuana, and five Texas cities plus five Ohio Cities have decriminalized marijuana possession locally. Wisconsin Voters also approved polling questions for marijuana in Three provinces and five municipalities across the state, paving the way for future legislation.

These victories build on promising results from past election cycles, in which states have been the most politically conservative — including who, Virginia, New Mexico, Alaska, Montana And arizona — Marijuana legalization has passed. This wave of victories not only highlights the growing bipartisan support for addressing important issues Racial bias in marijuana arrests, but also provides a stronger case for the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level. Legalizing marijuana and overturning previous marijuana convictions are essential to addressing the racial disparities and racial harms of the War on Drugs.

in ColoradoVoters agreed Measures It decriminalizes the use of certain narcotic drugs, which are becoming more commonly used to treat a range of health problems, including anxiety and mood disorders. This legislative action will align the state with the growing national trend of treating drug use as a public health issue, rather than a criminal problem. There is still more work to be done, but our progress this election cycle points in the right direction.

Voters elected a wave of reform-minded prosecutors despite false messages about crime.

Despite facing a barrage of stern messages regarding crime and incurring some losses, as in Maricopa County, ArizonaThe reformist claimant movement won several additional seats in this session. from Polk County, yeahl Bexar County And Dallas County, Texasl King County, Washington And beyond, voters made their voices clear: They want smart, evidence-based reforms to address public safety.

Perhaps most notably in Hennepin County, Minnesota, career attorney Mary Moriarty’s shrewd approach to justice easily triumphed over the fear mongering of her law and order opponent, retired district judge and former district attorney Martha Holton Dimmick. Moriarty He told reporters That her candidacy was inspired by calls for reckoning with racial justice and criminal justice reforms in the aftermath of the George Floyd uprisings of 2020: “I saw an opportunity for change slipping away from us. And I thought people who really value public safety and a fair and just order need to step up their efforts during this time of turmoil and offer options that aren’t the same old things we’ve had for decades, that we haven’t kept safer.”

Last August, voters in Shelby County, Tennessee He also ousted incumbent Attorney General Amy Weyrich, who had gained a national reputation for being outspoken Ineffective and overly punishingIn favor of Steve Mulroy, who ran the office repair rigs. Each of these progressive candidates won their own races — many by wide margins — even as threats against them grew in places like fl, PennsylvaniaAnd Wisconsin.

And as history has shown time and time again, candidates who perpetuate a virulent rhetoric on crime while ignoring the facts will not actually increase public safety. Although not all criminal justice reforms have been successful this year, voters have proven that they want new solutions to address public safety, not divisive rhetoric that only serves to instill fear. Our newly elected leaders of both parties have a commitment to continue to push for bold legislation that transforms our approach to public safety, protects civil liberties, and strengthens our communities.


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