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April 15, 2020

"Ensuring Justice and Public Safety: Federal Criminal Justice Priorities for 2020 and Beyond"

2020_04_LEL_Policy_Report_Final_Page_01-717x1024The title of this post is the title of this notable new report released today by the group Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime & Incarceration.  The report appears to have been written mostly pre-COVID, but its Forward contextualizes the report for our current times:

While we were finalizing the policy recommendations in this report, our country began battling an unprecedented health crisis.  The coronavirus pandemic has shined a spotlight on the size of America’s incarcerated and justice-involved population, illuminating both the extreme vulnerability of those held behind bars and how our prison population impacts our broader communities.  This public health emergency has required politicians and those who manage our criminal justice systems to rapidly reevaluate how many of those who are incarcerated can be safely released, how police and prosecutors can best serve their communities, and how to safely reduce the size of the justice system overall.

Even before the outbreak, the United States stood at a crossroads on criminal justice reform.  While some of our leaders have continued to use fear of crime to advocate for policy, many advocates, policymakers, and law enforcement officials from all parts of the country — and across the political spectrum — have realized that certain tough-on-crime policies of the 1990s and 2000s led to unintended consequences, such as the unnecessary incarceration of thousands, high rates of recidivism, and decreased confidence in law enforcement.  Ultimately, these challenges risk making our communities, including our law enforcement and correctional officers, less safe.

It was against this backdrop that the First Step Act became law in December 2018.  The law provided needed sentencing reform on the federal level and recognized that federal prisons should better promote rehabilitation and successful reentry for the tens of thousands of people who are released from federal custody each year. These ideas are not new, but the bipartisan effort that led to this significant legislation signaled that the country is ready to reexamine its approach to crime and punishment.

As law enforcement veterans who have dedicated our lives and careers to protecting public safety at every level of local, state, and federal government, we are now working to envision a criminal justice system that is fairer and more just while keeping crime low.  Our generation of law enforcement leaders helped to cut the violent crime rate to less than half of its peak in 1991, and we are committed to keeping it down. But we must be smart about it.  Decades of law enforcement experience, and the study and implementation of innovative programs around the country, have convinced us that crime policies that rely primarily on arrest, jail, and prison are ineffective to ensure public safety.

Members of our group have been at the forefront of various reform efforts for decades.  We have tried and tested numerous strategies and programs — such as community and problem-oriented policing, focused violence deterrence, pre-arrest diversion programs, increased access to mental health and drug treatment, and alternatives to incarceration — that reduce unnecessary incarceration while keeping our communities safe.  Many of our members are also leading the way on how to best reduce the size of the incarcerated population as we struggle to fight the coronavirus outbreak.  Yet implementing and maintaining high-quality strategies that will reverse the tide of unnecessary incarceration for the long term requires unwavering focus — and funding.

If we are serious as a society about rooting out the causes of our overreliance on the criminal justice system, the federal government has a significant role to play.  It is uniquely poised to provide key leadership by making reforms at the federal level and to incentivize local lawmakers to implement innovative and groundbreaking work across the country. Congress and the president can be powerful allies in this effort.  We seek to continue working together with leaders of the legislative and executive branches to shape the national consensus, pass legislation, and steer federal dollars toward programs that encourage safer, healthier communities.  To be sure, with thousands of police departments and prosecutors working to keep their communities safe, law enforcement is necessarily a very local concern. Each community must address its own crime problems and challenges. But it is critical that the federal government support these local efforts while providing leadership on how the criminal justice system can drive down crime without causing undue harm to communities.  Our experience has taught us that jail or prison need not be the automatic response for every broken law.  The research backs it up: for many nonviolent and first-time offenders, jail or prison is unnecessary for public safety and can endanger our communities in the long term, while causing harm to individuals and families.  To counter this, it is essential that we identify policies that direct away from the criminal justice system those who are mentally ill or have an addiction and that we reduce recidivism. This will position us to focus our resources on individuals who commit violent crimes while helping to restore community trust in law enforcement.

We urge Congress and the administration to carefully consider a range of strategies to promote public safety in the face of this unprecedented epidemic and, in the long term, to help ensure justice for local communities.  With those goals in mind, this report offers specific policy recommendations in each of five areas:

  • Reducing unnecessary incarceration
  • Increasing mental health and drug treatment
  • Bolstering community policing
  • Improving juvenile justice
  • Preserving and expanding recidivism reduction

Implementation of and funding for our recommendations will help to forge a path toward our common goal of a safer nation.  Congress and the administration should seize the moment for criminal justice reform and lead the way forward to create policies that reduce unnecessary incarceration now and will keep jail and prison population levels low in the long term.  The policies and the programs we propose should be the next steps for improving our systems of justice.

April 15, 2020 at 01:39 PM | Permalink

Comments

The Mass incarceration problem can be solved very easily just by fixing one problem. Release every inmate that was sentenced by the Federal Government Unconstitutional by "Ghost Drugs" I have a huge problem with people being sentenced to decades in prison on the amounts of drugs that another person said they had. Not caught on them, not found in their homes. "Statements only" The Federal Gov. Then pulls them in and tells them they are being charged by this amount they concocted from someone else was trying to reduce their sentence, get out a calculator and add up "Ghost drug amounts"
Then they tell the person, if you go to Trial you will get 40 years because the Federal Government instructs the jury that Statements are evidence" So they plead guilty. How on god's green earth can this Country do that? There isn't just a few cases, there are 10's of 1000's. Texas is a main hub for the Federal Gov to prosecute like this and it must end. 76% of incarcerated inmates are in for drugs convictions. Alot for "Ghost drugs" with no other evidence than words. Anyone else have a problem with this "Trafficking Conspiracy?"

Posted by: Lisa Sciretta | Apr 15, 2020 5:04:20 PM

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