What to know about the criminal justice system and the death penalty
Posted On August 4, 2021
In recent years, a number of state legislatures have considered or passed bills to reform the criminal process, and a new report suggests that many of those bills will be adopted as part of a broader package of legislation to reform America’s criminal justice systems.
While the bill’s goals are laudable, they are also far from clear cut, the Brennan Center for Justice wrote in its report, “Criminal Justice Reform: A Case for Reform.”
The report, which was released on Monday, notes that many states have begun to reform their sentencing and sentencing procedures, as well as their policies toward mental health, but the report notes that most of the reforms are not expected to take effect for at least a decade.
For instance, while many states are attempting to reform how they handle mental health and substance abuse, those reforms will likely take a long time to take full effect.
Additionally, the report warns that “states may be more vulnerable to changing political circumstances and economic downturns than states might think,” and that there is likely to be a “huge shift in the way the criminal-justice system operates in the coming years.”
The Brennan Center’s report highlights a number a ways in which the criminal code is outdated, ineffective, and unduly punitive, and says that the criminal system’s criminal code lacks a clear, principled rationale for its use.
The report suggests several ways in this regard, such as the criminal codes inability to hold offenders accountable, the failure to provide effective alternatives to incarceration, and the fact that it has become increasingly difficult for law enforcement to track down and prosecute offenders.
While the report does not suggest a legislative path forward, it does note that states may have more influence over the law than they think, as evidenced by the number of bills that have passed the statehouse.
For example, Arizona passed a bill that would give the state’s attorney general more powers to investigate and prosecute cases that involve federal officials, and Oklahoma also passed a measure that would allow local authorities to hold people for up to 15 days if they pose a “significant threat of imminent physical harm” to themselves or others.
While these bills have garnered much attention, the reports authors also note that other states may be doing much the same thing.
They note that Florida has passed legislation that would make it easier to hold individuals for up for up or down time in federal custody, and that Colorado has passed a law that would require police officers to notify people about their right to an attorney if they have been arrested, but these laws are not yet fully implemented.
States also appear to be making significant changes to how they respond to cases of domestic violence, which the Brennan report argues is a clear example of how the criminal law is not up to the task of being reformed.
While there have been few national efforts to address domestic violence as a public safety issue, the majority of states have enacted some form of legislation, the authors note, which has included legislation to make it harder to charge offenders with the crime, to increase mandatory minimum sentences, and to provide additional protection for victims.
The report recommends that states enact laws that would provide more effective protections for victims of domestic abuse, including mandatory minimum sentencing, increased training for law-enforcement officers on domestic violence issues, and mandatory mental health monitoring for offenders.
And while there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem, the findings suggest that a number states have taken steps to improve the response of law enforcement officers to domestic violence incidents, the paper concludes.
States are also likely to take actions to better protect children, including increasing the number and length of parent reporting requirements, more frequent court hearings, and better coordination between local child welfare agencies and law enforcement.
The Brennan Center report also notes that states have seen increases in the number, number of, and severity of reports of abuse and neglect for children in the past decade.
While these trends are not necessarily indicative of an increase in abuse, the number being reported may indicate that there has been a change in the state of child welfare services.