Criminal Reform

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Prisoners, despite their criminal record, are vulnerable when behind bars. They don’t have the power to force criminal reform inside correctional facilities unless the authorities listen.

This article tackles criminal reform and its successes throughout the years. Also, this piece discusses the problems it continues to face and what needs to be done to ensure positive reform.

To learn more about the various policies implemented in America’s prisons, visit LookUpInmate.org. Our website provides links to over 7,000 prisons and jails nationwide. You can obtain their contact information, policies, and regulations.

Criminal Justice Reform

As you peer into the criminal justice system of the United States, you’ll realize that reform is indeed necessary. There are pressing issues inside prisons that need amendments.

These problems are brought to light through reports and investigations on the country’s prison system. Criminal justice reform may solve these problems to ensure that America’s prisons are rehabilitation places.

Introduction

Criminal justice reform focuses on the structural problems of the country’s criminal justice system. The primary issues that plague the prison system are police brutality, racial profiling, overcriminalization, mass incarceration, and recidivism.

Criminal justice reform can happen when the lawmaking process, policing, and sentencing policies are reworked to resolve the problems that affect this system.

What You Need to Know

Before starting any criminal justice reform, knowing America’s current criminal justice state is crucial.

  • Since the 1980s, the prison population has increased by almost 790%.
  • According to the Criminal Reform Law Project, a division of the national American Civil Liberties Union, 3,278 people served life sentences without parole because of property, drug, and nonviolent crimes in 2012.
  • A Black person in the U.S. is 3.73 times more likely to get arrested for drug possession (marijuana) than a white individual despite equal usage rates.

What’s at Stake

Advocacy groups like those involved in the Criminal Law Reform Project (CLRP) strive to end the apparently “harsh” policies rampant in America’s prisons.

The CLRP believes that what’s at stake is the future of America’s prison system and reform. Cases of over-criminalization and racial injustice amid mass incarceration can endanger the safety within prisons in America and society.

The reforms should change law enforcement practices, pretrial detention policies, and surveillance methods. These policies must also end the cases of judicial abuses of authority in the name of public safety.

Finally, reforms must uphold the civil rights of people, eliminate racism, and increase accountability and transparency of the government. The fate of almost two million prisoners is affected by the result of the justice reforms pushed forward by different advocacy groups.

The Big Topics

Now that you know what’s at stake, it’s time to start tackling the big topics involved in criminal justice reform.

Any nationwide reform can’t happen without the involvement of policymakers and local governments in the United States. Positive reforms can solve the country’s ballooning incarceration rates, expenses, and recidivism rates.

Clemency

Granting clemency is one of the powers a president holds in office. Clemency is a way to relieve a prisoner from a court-ordered sentence or punishment. This executive privilege comes in two forms:

  • Pardon: This type of clemency exempts a convict from any remaining penalty or punishment and any consequences that may stem from a conviction.
  • Commutation of a sentence: Unlike granting pardon, a commutation reduces the incarcerated individual’s sentence fully or partially.

Former U.S. President Obama has commuted the sentences of more incarcerated individuals than the six previous presidents combined.

Obama established the Clemency Initiative to encourage convicts imprisoned for outdated laws and policies to petition for a possible clemency grant.

Solitary Confinement

A prisoner who has been a delinquent or unruly behind bars may be placed in solitary confinement in special housing units. The confined isolation may last from 22 to 24 hours.

Inmates under solitary confinement are restricted from receiving calls, getting reading materials, and participating in rehabilitation and education programs.

Because of these restrictions, many see solitary confinement as “torture” and, therefore, should be discouraged. However, many prisoners are subjected to this form of treatment in the United States.

Reports showed that around 50,000 people are placed under such restrictive isolation, which the United Nations (U.N.) also sees as torture.

Former President Obama directed the attorney general to review the abusive use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

Obama banned the solitary confinement of juvenile detainees guilty of low-level offenses inside prison. He then expanded the treatment of mentally ill individuals behind bars. He also increased the time inmates placed in solitary spent outside prison cells.

Policing

The public’s trust in the police has been strained because of the high-profile cases of police brutality shown on news networks in recent years.

During the Obama administration, more than $2 billion was allotted to retain or hire 10,000 police officers.

Another initiative is the creation of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which is tasked to develop a plan to foster trust between the community and law enforcement.

Reentry

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) showed that the number of people released from America’s incarceration facilities number 10,000 daily.

However, prisoners reenter society with collateral consequences like criminal records that can prevent them from getting employed, access to housing assistance, and physical and mental illness care.

Violent Crimes

Police and other law enforcement officers helped reduce the country’s violent crime rate by almost half. This achievement is significant, despite the continued growing number of incarcerated individuals.

Top Trends in Criminal Justice Reform

The relentless work done by advocacy groups focused on reforming the prison system in the United States has generated success worth mentioning.

Overview

The U.S. has the world’s biggest prison population next to China. Currently, almost two million incarcerated individuals are directly affected by criminal justice policy reforms.

However, the numbers don’t end there. Statistics reveal that an estimated 70 to 100 million people in the U.S. have a criminal record, while 19 million live with a felony conviction.

Over 100 million Americans have their lives intertwined with the criminal justice system, and any reform made on justice policies and regulations in the country affects them.

Extreme Sentencing and Decarceration Reforms

Mass incarceration is the dramatic increase of people sent to prison that started during the 1970s until today. On the other hand, “decarceration” is the process undertaken by the government to reduce the number of inmates in U.S. prisons.

An example of wins in criminal justice reforms is the unanimous approval of the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 (RCCA), which overhauls and modernizeWashington, D.C.’s criminal code. The RCCA made changes to the following policies in the city’s criminal law:

  • Eliminated most mandatory minimum sentences
  • Lowered the maximum sentence to 45 years
  • Eliminated accomplice liability for felony murder
  • Expanded judicial reconsideration for all inmates serving long sentences

The RCCA also extends reconsideration to prisoners with offenses committed after they turn 25. Eligible inmates can submit a petition for resentencing after serving 20 years in prison. 

Challenging Racial Disparity

California’s Assembly Bill No. 256 of the Racial Justice Act for All allows defendants with convictions before January 1, 2021, to seek court relief if they can prove racial bias in their criminal charge, conviction, or sentence. The bill protects people caught up in criminal litigation based on racial discrimination.

Drug Policy Reform

Lawmakers who advocate prison reform have revised the policies used in the government’s “war on drugs” era, which started in June 1971 that led to mass incarceration.

The following advances in justice reforms happened in states like Kentucky, Maryland, and Colorado.

  • Kentucky senators passed Senate Bill 90, which allows a person charged with a nonviolent crime and diagnosed with substance use disorder or mental health disorders to receive treatment than go to prison. The defendant goes to a pilot program, and the charges may be dismissed when completed.
  • Maryland voters legalized the use of recreational marijuana, eliminating incarceration sentences for possession of this drug. Marijuana is now fully legalized starting July 1, 2023.
  • Colorado voters approved Proposition 122, decriminalizing certain psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms. The proposition got 1,296,992 “yes” votes and was approved, lessening the crimes with incarceration penalties.

Limiting Incarceration for Probation and Parole Violations

  • Florida officials adopted Senate Bill 752, allowing probationers to receive education and workforce credits to reduce their probation terms.

Probationers under this law, who work an average of 30 hours weekly within six months, can reduce their probation sentence by as many as 30 days.

Every six months of work shaves one month off the total probation sentence.

  • Oklahoma lawmakers passed House Bill 4369, which modifies the administrative parole process, allowing early termination of probation and parole terms for prisoners within one calendar year of their discharge date.

Prison Reform: Abolishing Involuntary Servitude and Slavery

Alabama, Oregon, Vermont, and Tennessee tried to make legal slavery and involuntary servitude as punishments for a crime conviction. However, Louisiana voters didn’t allow a similar initiative to gain grounds in their jurisdiction.

Expanding the Vote

In 2022, 4.6 million citizens became ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction. However, many ex-felons have regained voting rights since 1997 because of methods provided by pro-prisoner legislation to expand the vote to incarcerated individuals.

One example is the Massachusetts VOTES Act, which guarantees ballot access to people in jails.

Promoting Youth Justice

Lawmakers adopted a policy demonstrating a commitment to protecting juveniles and expanding release options for people sentenced during their youth. The reforms continue to trend in seeking the legal response to juvenile crime.

  • Indiana lawmakers adopted House Bill 1359, a comprehensive reform measure that prevents the detention of children 12 years old and under.
  • Maryland lawmakers adopted several youth justice reforms by enacting Senate Bill 691 that children younger than 13 years will not be subjected to court jurisdiction and can’t be charged with a crime. However, the court will have jurisdiction if it’s a serious crime like murder and the child is at least 10 years of age.

Trends That Reinforce Mass Incarceration

Mass incarceration is still trending despite the many advances made by justice reformers.

An example is what Indiana lawmakers did as they passed House Bill 1004, reversing the reforms achieved in 2014. The bill allowed the incarceration of low-level felonies in jails rather than prison.

Another trend that reinforces mass incarceration is House Bill 215 in Kentucky. It increased the sentence for importing fentanyl to 10 years imprisonment. Furthermore, the bill removes pretrial diversion for people charged with this crime.

A diversion program reduces the need for incarceration and “diverts” the defendant to alternative programs to rehabilitate an offender while remaining in their communities.

Incentivize States to Reduce Their Prison Populations

One of the methods to promote the reduction of the prison population in states is to offer incentives. One such incentive is the Reserve Mass Incarceration Act.

This federal bill dedicates $20 billion over 10 years to states willing to reshape their policy to reduce incarceration and crime.

Advance Policing Reform

Excessive and aggressive police actions mar the public’s trust. They erode confidence, decrease legitimacy, and give the impression that law enforcement officers see themselves as above the law. Here are different reforms to regain the public trust in the nation’s police:

  • National Use-of-Force Standards Reform: The government should limit the use of force (deadly and non-deadly). One example is banning certain restraining maneuvers that block airways leading to choking.
  • Adopt a duty-to-intervene policy: Congress should require all law enforcement agencies to intervene when their fellow officers engage in misconduct or misuse of force. Officers should report these incidents to their superiors.
  • Use-of-force reporting to the federal government: The Department of Justice must create a comprehensive database of use-of-force reports open to the public. The use-of-force reports hold officers accountable whenever they use force in a given situation.

Encourage Best Practices in Prosecution

The prosecutor is one of the principal people and the prime movers in a criminal case. Prosecutors act as an attorney to the plaintiff and help investigate and prosecute a criminal case.

The prosecutor has a crucial role in the success of any criminal reform program. The Justice Department must undo the regressive policies and direct federal prosecutors to focus more on violent crimes than low-level drug cases.

Furthermore, the DOJ should encourage national leaders to implement justice-oriented programs and choose prosecutors committed to promoting criminal justice reform.

How Can Advance Sentencing Reform Reduce the Federal Prison Population?

There are prescriptions in criminal law that include the type of sentences given to specific crimes. These sentence prescriptions are called mandatories, and many people go to jail because of these stringent sentences.

One option to reduce the mass incarceration trend in America is to do away with mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.

A repeal of this forced incarceration for drug offenders helps judges decide better on the appropriate sentence based on the prisoner’s specific circumstances.

One example of mandatory sentencing that needs reform is the 18:1 disparity between crack and powdered cocaine. Advocates argue that weight-driven sentencing schemes for drug offenses are outdated.

Congress should focus more on the circumstances of the crime and the culpability or blameworthiness of the accused.

Furthermore, to improve the scope of any reform approved today, Congress should allow retroactive efficacy of the law.

Retroactive efficacy means that any law or statute approved today will also apply to those already incarcerated.

Improve First Step Act Implementation

The First Step Act of 2018 is a criminal justice reform legislation that provides a path of early release to federal inmates through the accumulation of earned time credits (ETCs).

ETCs are incentives that come as rewards a prisoner gets after participating in rehabilitative activities. A prisoner getting enough ETCs can help shorten their sentence resulting in early release.

However, thousands of incarcerated individuals still wait for developments on the ETC program. The rules and regulations of the ETC program remain unclear, and many still have problems understanding time credits and how to calculate them to reduce sentence length.

To start criminal reform using ETCs, the program must be improved and the rules made clear for prisoners.

Prisoner advocacy groups point out that these rehabilitation programs aren’t available in every prison. It means some inmates have no access to earning time credits. The situation also worsened due to widespread staffing shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Improve Prison Conditions

It’s crucial that prison rules and regulations also undergo reform to help rehabilitate the lives of people deprived of liberty.

  • Limit the use of solitary confinement to punish unruly prisoners. A growing consensus, especially among prisoner advocates, is that using solitary confinement as a punishment causes more harm than good.

According to the international symposium on solitary confinement sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson University, researchers found that solitary confinement is so damaging that it can outweigh any positive effect prisons may bring.

Significantly limiting solitary confinement may be the better option if reforming prison conditions is required.

  • Improve oversight of BOP facilities. Creating an independent oversight body can help monitor and inspect BOP facilities. The oversight body must have unfettered access to prisoners, prison staff, and documents.

Furthermore, the findings should be a public record of the bureau’s checks and balances. 

Restructure and Streamline Executive Clemency Power

Clemency is an executive power to “forgive” any prisoner of their crimes. The president is the highest government executive who can grant clemency and has unlimited power in this area.

However, the current clemency process relies heavily on the willingness of the executive to grant clemency.

For example, former President Donald Trump, in his 4-year term, pardoned 143 prisoners and granted sentence commutation (sentence reduction) for 94 incarcerated individuals.

In comparison, former President Obama pardoned 212 prisoners and granted commutation for 1,715 incarcerated individuals. If the clemency process is not streamlined and restructured, clemency can become politically fueled.

Help Formerly Incarcerated People Rejoin the Workforce and Community With a Clean-Slate

A criminal record is a social “limiter” that can keep recently released prisoners from getting their desired jobs. Criminal records tend to last for a long time unless expungement is requested.

Expungement is a legal action to remove or erase one’s criminal record. The “Clean Slate” legislation removes the barriers that make reentry for incarcerated individuals difficult.

However, the current legislation and expungement policies are not broad enough to allow offenders of low-level or victimless crimes to get their records sealed from the public.

Eliminate the Death Penalty

The death penalty is so absolute. Once it has been imposed, it’s final and irreversible. What’s saddening is the inequality in applying the death penalty in the United States.

There are arguments that due to the ongoing problems in the justice system, like racial and economic biases, it’s hard to allow the government to have power over the life of another individual.

The irreversibility of death must be coupled with a justice system that is infallible in its judgment.

Many argue that the Supreme Court should rule against the imposition of the death penalty because of the lack of evidence that it’s an effective deterrent against crime in its application.

Why Promote Prison Reform?

After stating the success of criminal justice reform, here are some reasons why such an overreaching endeavor is needed in the country’s federal and state prisons.

Human Rights Considerations

Upon birth, a human has rights that no one can take away. A decent and moral society should protect these inherent rights. The United States acknowledges human rights as unalienable, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The U.S. Constitution can only “deprive” a person of these unalienable rights through due process, where criminal law comes in.

Imprisonment deprives a person’s right to liberty, which is why the prison system should ensure that the policies and treatment of prisons should always have human rights consideration.

Imprisonment and Poverty

Some prisoner advocate groups argue for an existing “poverty-prison pipeline” where most incarcerated people are impoverished and from families rife in poverty.

Furthermore, a person behind bars becomes significantly limited in their economic ability, plunging them and their families into an endless poverty cycle, criminality, and marginalization.

Public Health Consequences of Imprisonment

The U.S. prison system has its unique challenges, and one of them is existing health problems that can affect the lives of people behind bars.

The deterioration of prisoners’ health is a concern, mainly due to the overcrowding caused by mass incarceration. People inside prisons who are not sentenced to death still have the basic right to life.

If no reform is made, prisons will become places of torture, disease, and death. People who have committed lesser crimes may be placed in punishment not proportional to their offenses.

Detrimental Social Impact

There’s no hiding that prisons can tear families and friendships apart. An incarcerated person is isolated from society, and only those genuinely caring for them will stay in touch.

Prisons must acknowledge these problems to improve the programs that preserve the families and friends of inmates despite the situation. If no prison reform is made, these rips in the social fabric can worsen and result in more problems in the future.

The Cost of Imprisonment

According to a fact sheet released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the nationwide bill for running correctional facilities costs state governments an estimated $55 billion in 2020 alone. Hence, one prisoner costs U.S. taxpayers $45,771 per year.

Understanding the Benchmarks for Action in Prison Reform: The United Nations Standards and Norms

The United Nations Standards and Norms are an internationally accepted and recognized set of principles that promote the widely accepted standards of the rule of law and human rights.

Key Among Standards and Norms That Relate to Prison Reform Are:

  • United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners adopted as the Nelson Mandela Rules on December 17, 2015

Other U.N. Instruments Relevant to the Prison System

The United Nations released a compendium of instruments used to ensure prison systems worldwide align with human rights law and criminal justice principles adopted and accepted by the international community.

The updated version of this compendium has five parts:

  • Custody of prisoners, non-custodial sanctions, and restorative justice policies
  • Justice for juveniles
  • Crime prevention and victim issues
  • Good governance involving judiciary independence and criminal justice personnel integrity
  • Legal, institutional, and practical arrangements for international cooperation

UNODC’s Integrated and Multi-Disciplinary Strategical Approach to Prison Reform

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) believes that effective prison reform is not an individual or isolated effort but must be part of a multi-disciplinary approach to criminal justice and prison reform.

Any attempt to improve current criminal justice policies and usher in prison reform must involve crime prevention methods and updated sentencing policies.

Another thing to consider in any reform is the care and treatment of vulnerable groups or marginalized communities.

The plight of prisoners who are among the underprivileged group should be enough incentive needed by governments to begin improving the status of prisons and jails.

Thematic Areas of Work in the Field of Prison Reform and Imprisonment Alternatives

The UNODC provides technical assistance to specific areas of prison reform. These interventions aim to improve prison conditions by promoting observance of human rights and focused support toward successfully reintegrating offenders into society.

The thematic areas of work in prison reform are stated in the topics below.

Pretrial Detention

Law enforcement can detain a person with an arrest warrant to ensure the accused’s appearance during the trial. This process is called pretrial detention.

However, because of pretrial detention, there are instances where detainees exceed the prescribed prison time when convicted before trial.

The pretrial detention period is vulnerable to abuse. Furthermore, poor pretrial detention facilities subject the accused to a harsh environment, despite still being under the presumption of innocence.

Prison Management

The policies and practices of U.S. prisons should align with international standards to ensure fair and absolute protection of the human rights of prisoners.

Prison authorities treat and supervise prisoners according to the rule of law and human rights.

One of the goals of prison management is to ensure that prison reintegration into society happens. Prison reform pertains to changes inside prison walls and provides alternatives where correction can be made without going to jail.

Alternative Measures and Sanctions

Overcrowding is a worldwide issue, as most prison systems in different countries have problems with incarceration rates. One of the possible solutions is building new prisons, but these facilities are expensive and time-consuming to build.

One way to resolve these issues is to promote alternatives to prison, such as shifting the approach to crime and focusing more on restorative justice and reintegration into society instead of incarceration.

Social Reintegration

One of the crucial goals of incarceration facilities is to provide a pathway for convicted individuals to reenter society after serving time for crimes committed.

Prison reform should initiate social reintegration early in the criminal justice process to have optimal effects. Treatment programs, non-custodial sanctions for vulnerable groups, post-release support, and purposeful activities in prisons are in place to prepare prisoners for reentry into society.

Healthcare

Universal healthcare, or healthcare for all, means everyone, including prisoners, has the right to medical care. However, inadequate funds, neglect, and lack of coordination with national health authorities can disrupt this crucial medical service pipeline to people behind bars.

Criminal Justice Reform Status Halfway Through the Biden Administration

The following section summarizes reviews of the Biden administration’s attempt to reform the criminal justice system. The issue concerning prison reform remains unresolved, mainly due to mass incarceration.

Here, President Biden focuses reforms on key areas of the criminal justice system that he thinks will have the most positive impact.

Retrenchment on the Federal Death Penalty

Ending the federal death penalty has been one of Biden’s presidential campaigns. However, many people hoping to abolish the death penalty are dismayed after two years of non-activity on this presidential promise.

Still, despite the non-activity, the Department of Justice took preemptive steps. The DOJ withdrew death penalty requests, started an incomplete review of death penalty protocols, and announced a moratorium or halt on further federal executions.

Limited Progress on Prison Reform

Colette Peters became the new director of the Bureau of Prisons on August 2, 2022. However, she took the helm at a time when the agency had cases of sexual abuse allegations, a congressional corruption inquiry, inadequate medical care issues, and a staffing shortage.

Peters has committed to transforming the institutional culture in the agency. In fact, as head of the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC), she dismantled the death row. She led reforms to lessen reliance on segregated housing.

Notable Nominations and Confirmations

President Biden has revitalized the administration of federal law through the nominations of confirmations.

One of the most notable confirmations is Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Similarly, for lower federal courts, Biden’s nominees highlight diversity. Approximately 76% of Biden’s nominees as of 2022 were women, and 65% were people of color.

Updates to DOJ Charging Policy

Federal prosecutors have broad discretion in a criminal case. Attorney General Merrick Garland used this discretion when he issued directives, like limiting the application of mandatory minimum penalties, especially in drug-related cases. It’s a step toward reducing the excessive sentences in the federal system.

Limited Progress on Clemency

President Biden was often targeted by critics, especially for his clemency granting. After one year of inaction, Biden granted three pardons and 75 commutations.

In November 2022, Biden pardoned all convictions for simple marijuana possession under the federal and Washington, D.C. law. Though there are no federal prisoners because of simple possession, the White House said that the pardon might affect 6,500 people behind bars, especially in D.C.

Mixed Record on Immigration Detention

The Biden administration’s 2023 budget included funding for 25,000 beds for the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. It also requested $87 million for alternatives to detention programs.

The ICE relies more on community monitoring of undocumented individuals than placing them in detention. Today, more than 343,000 families and individuals are under this ICE program.

New Investments in Community Violence Interventions

The Biden administration supports community violence interventions (CVIs) to reduce crime and announced new investments to support the program.

CVI programs aim to break the cycle of violence through interventions and social programming.

A Better Path Forward for Criminal Justice: Reimagining Pretrial and Sentencing

To forge a better path for criminal justice, people in power should reexamine the pretrial and sentencing part of the justice process.

The pretrial and sentencing process is a criminal litigation process start and end point. The following sections tackle the problems seen by reformists and possible recommendations for reform.

Level Setting

A divided house cannot stand, nor can any reform movement happen if everyone isn’t on a level setting. Unity of vision and work is needed to conduct criminal reform successfully.

One basic principle that requires a unanimous agreement is acknowledging that prisons are not only places of punishment but a potential haven for change.

Short-Term Reforms

There are decisions under criminal reforms that one may consider short-term. These decisions require political will to start implementing changes.

Prison reforms are complex decisions that can be made over time. It takes political will and congressional allocation to make things happen in this sector of society. One short-term reform is to improve the state’s ability to spend on enhancing prisons under its jurisdiction.

Cost-Benefit Analyses of Pretrial and Sentencing Practices

Many may not know that pretrial detention is not free. Every day a person stays in jail costs taxpayers money.

However, the accused may spend more nights in prison because they can’t post bail. For instance, economically challenged people may spend more than one day in jail, despite committing low-level crimes.

Reformers urge the justice system to consider the monetary and non-monetary costs when deciding on the need for pretrial detention. A cost-effective and inexpensive court reminder system may be better than pretrial detention.

Setting Fines and Fees Based on Ability to Pay

Fines and fees are often prescribed by law. As a result, many offenses have fixed fine amounts, which the defendant must pay.

Paying fixed fines may be convenient for people with money. However, for those with limited means, fixed fines may be another hurdle they can’t overcome, resulting in additional days in jail.

Reformers suggest adopting a policy where fines and fees are based on the ability of the defendant to pay. This policy allows people with little to no income to pay the fines according to their economic capacity.

Hold Prosecutors Accountable for Filing and Plea-Bargaining Decisions

Prosecutors can decide whether to file charges and seek plea bargains if needed. However, some prosecutors will decide to file certain charges that will trigger the use of mandatory minimum sentences, habitual offender provisions, and life without the possibility of parole sentences, some of which they’ll dismiss later.

Prosecutors must be held accountable so they’ll only file charges for offenses they believe will have the most reasonable likelihood of conviction.

Furthermore, the agreement must be in writing and recorded if the prosecutor forces a plea bargain with the defendant. Prosecutors must also agree to a sentencing review to avoid defendants getting excessive and unfair sentences.

Reconsider Probation and Parole Practices That Contribute to Mass Incarceration

Proponents of criminal reform argue that jurisdictions should reconsider policies and practices that contribute to mass incarceration. These jurisdictions should ensure the efficacy of alternative sentencing like parole and probation.

It’s a known fact that many incarcerated people in the country’s jails and prisons have violated these two community supervision programs. Alternative sentences should not be designed to set the parolee or probationer up for failure.

Some people under these supervision programs get their parole or probation terms revoked due to disobeying a policy or practice which is already unreasonable from the start.

Revocation and reincarceration should only be used for repeat offenders or recidivists.

Medium-Term Reforms

Criminal reform needs quick, short-term solutions and medium-term reforms, which are crucial to start significant changes in the system.

Inter-agency Approaches to Reducing Justice System Intervention

Medium-term reforms require the cooperation of different agencies in the criminal justice system. One area that needs reform is reducing the justice system’s intervention in nonviolent crimes.

The criminal justice system should lose its unhealthy preference for incarceration as a solution to crimes. Reducing the need for the justice system to intervene in low-level offenses is a step toward long-term change.

One way to start this reform is to create diversion programs and problem-solving courts.

These agencies will work with social services, public health, and educational professionals to resolve issues concerning mental health problems, substance abuse, and other factors that push people into a life of crime.

Long-Term Reforms

Short and medium-term reforms will only resolve problems through the policies and regulations they can implement. However, if the law has problems, a long-term solution is to raise the issue in Congress to implement change.

Establish a Presumption of Pretrial Release

Decades of long-term policy decisions resulted in the prevalence of mass incarceration in America. Reforming this problem means reviewing the policies and focusing on ways to reduce the number of people jailed or imprisoned.

One area that needs drastic reform is the pretrial stage of a case, where many individuals are kept in jail before a trial. As a result, some people are kept behind bars even if they’re still technically innocent.

Conditions for pretrial release must be established to lessen the strain in jails and pretrial detention centers. Detention should only be recommended for offenders of severe crimes and those who are flight risks.

Revise Sentencing Statutes to Ensure Proportionality

Proportionality means that the punishment should equal the crime. However, some policies and statutes seem to go against this basic foundation of criminal law.

Examples of these policies that force the court to impose harsher punishment for relatively minor crimes are mandatory minimum sentencing and the three-strike laws in different states.

Another area that needs reform is the length of prison sentences like life sentences without the possibility of parole and “truth-in sentencing” (TIS), where the convicted must serve a substantial amount of time, usually 85% of the total prison time. For violent crimes, this could mean an average of 88 months.

Recommendations for Future Research

The law should be updated alongside a progressive society. Outdated statutes must be revised or repealed. Research must be done on the punishments and penalties and how they affect the offenders’ lives.

Criminal reform will only happen when those in government have the heart and will to see almost two million people behind bars find new life through rehabilitation.

Suppose you want to join the cause for criminal reform. In that case, you can check the information and policies your local prison or jail implements.

You can check out LookUpInmate.org and find additional information you might need to spearhead a criminal reform petition in your area.

You can also visit www.justice.gov for resources and contact information, where you can file requests involving the current law and policies concerning the criminal justice system.

FAQs

1. What are some examples of criminal justice reforms?

Criminal justice reform refers to proposed changes by limiting the involvement or intervention of the criminal justice system in low-level offenses that can be resolved through alternate means and not incarceration.

2. What does reform mean in criminology?

Criminal justice reform covers all aspects of the justice process in the government. This umbrella term includes changes in law enforcement policies, the prison system, and inmate rehabilitation programs.

3. Who started the criminal justice reform movement?

Many figures in history push changes and reform the criminal justice system. In colonial times, William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, was among the first people who tried to instill policies to treat prisoners humanely in the United States.

He established trial by jury and limited the death penalty to two crimes: murder and treason. He also believed that imprisonment and labor are acceptable punishments for most crimes, aside from the two serious offenses.

4. Should we reform the criminal justice system?

Society is always changing and evolving, depending on the factors that drive the change. The law and justice system must also keep up with the changing society, or they will become outdated.

Outdated laws can result in problems like being unable to punish new forms of crimes or punishing actions that are no longer considered offenses today.

References

  1. Fight for Criminal Reform
    https://www.aclu.org/issues/criminal-law-reform
  2. Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2023
    https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2023.html
  3. Clemency 101
    https://www.americanprogress.org/article/clemency-101/
  4. Criminal Justice Reform
    https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/issues/criminal-justice-reform
  5. Solitary Confinement
    https://www.apt.ch/en/knowledge-hub/detention-focus-database/safety-order-and-discipline/solitary-confinement
  6. Criminal Justice Reform
    https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/issues/criminal-justice-reform
  7. Americans with Criminal Records
    https://www.sentencingproject.org/app/uploads/2022/08/Americans-with-Criminal-Records-Poverty-and-Opportunity-Profile.pdf
  8. American History, Race, and Prison
    https://www.vera.org/reimagining-prison-web-report/american-history-race-and-prison
  9. Decarcerating Correctional Facilities during COVID-19: Advancing Health, Equity, and Safety.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK566324/#sec_15
  10. Top Trends in Criminal Justice Reform, 2022
    https://www.sentencingproject.org/fact-sheet/top-trends-in-criminal-justice-reform-2022/
  11. Maryland juvenile justice reform bill passes state Senate
    https://apnews.com/article/business-crime-maryland-a52e6fe97299f286df8df871d6d359e8
  12. Trump used his clemency power sparingly despite a raft of late pardons and commutations
    https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2021/01/22/trump-used-his-clemency-power-sparingly-despite-a-raft-of-late-pardons-and-commutations/
  13. Death Penalty: Issues in the Debate
    https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/death-penalty-issues-debate
  14. Use and Application of United Nations Standards and Norms in Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, 2013
    https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/use-and-application-united-nations-standards-and-norms-crime-1
  15. COMPENDIUM OF UNITED NATIONS STANDARDS AND NORMS IN CRIME PREVENTION AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE
    https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/justice-and-prison-reform/compendium.html
  16. Biden-Harris Administration Announces Community Violence Interventions
    https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/news/juvjust/biden-harris-administration-announces-community-violence-interventions

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