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July 10, 2019

"Criminal Justice Reform: A Survey of 2018 State Laws"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new white paper from The Federalist Society authored by Robert Alt. Here is how the document gets started:

State legislatures across the country took significant strides in reforming their criminal justice regimes throughout 2018. States revised their existing criminal codes, passed new legislation, and amended their constitutions in order to address a range of criminal justice concerns.  Several states enacted similar legislative reforms, and a survey of the changing criminal justice landscape reveals that states were most willing to modify their criminal laws in the areas related to pre-trial detention or bail reform, civil asset forfeiture, marijuana legalization, drug-induced homicide, and opioid abuse. Although not an exhaustive list of new criminal justice legislation, the most notable reforms fall generally among those categories.

Criminal justice reform did not trend in a singular direction.  Some reform measures, for example, appear designed to liberalize drug-enforcement by legalizing medical and recreational use of marijuana, while others establish more severe penalties and stricter enforcement protocols for fighting criminal drug trafficking and opioid abuse.  Two states made significant changes to their pretrial detention protocols, giving state judges more latitude to use risk-assessment tools and easing the financial burdens that the cash bail systems had placed upon low-income criminal defendants.  Several states amended their civil asset forfeiture laws to make their asset forfeiture process more transparent and to make asset forfeiture more difficult for law enforcement. Still other states, like Massachusetts, adopted sweeping reform measures across virtually their entire criminal code.

Support for and against criminal laws and punishments do not tend to break along traditional partisan lines.  Although some legislative reforms proved politically contentious, including several of the statewide ballot initiatives, others were largely bipartisan efforts that saw legislatures and governors from both ends of the political spectrum reach tenable compromises.  Some reform measures even passed their state legislatures unanimously.

July 10, 2019 at 10:05 PM | Permalink


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