Criminal Justice Reform Progress in the States

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Posted by Brooke Starr on Monday, February 11th, 2019, 10:59 AM PERMALINK

Less than two months after President Trump signed the historic and bipartisan First Step Act into law, states like Mississippi, Wyoming, and Florida are using the momentum and advancing meaningful criminal justice reform bills.

This week, Mississippi’s House and Senate Judiciary Committees passed respective criminal justice reform bills, House Bill 1352 and Senate Bill 2791.

HB 1352, the “Criminal Justice Reform Act,” introduced by Representative Jason White, would help improve the lives of the formerly incarcerated by removing barriers of entry and creating pathways into the workforce. SB 2791, “Re-entry and employability,” introduced by Senator Juan Barnett, similarly makes it easier for former inmates to find work, but also implements evidence-based solutions to reduce incarceration with the use of “problem-solving” or “intervention” courts.

Florida is working to pass their own version of the First Step Act. Senator Jeff Brandes pre-filed Senate Bill 642 on February 1st, a sister bill, House Bill 705 is being introduced by Representative Byron Donalds today, February 11.

The Florida First Step Act aims to make sure the vast majority of prisoners who will be released one day are better prepared to become productive members of society. It would create a more efficient and effective criminal justice system.

The bill would do so by creating early incentives for prisoners enrolled in educational programs, giving judges discretion on mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, and more. These proposed reforms are even more exciting now that lawmakers have the option, after passing Amendment 11 in November, to apply sentencing retroactively - meaning these new laws could immediately impact those behind bars.

In Wyoming, a wide variety of reforms are being considered. The Senate Judiciary committee voted unanimously to advance two separate criminal justice reform files - Senate File 10 Modification and Senate File 38 Limitation. SF0010 gives judges the discretion to sentence people to unsupervised probation (with the exception of crimes punishable by death or life in prison), to reduce a probation sentence, and evaluate offender’s mental and social health. SF0038 places a 36-month maximum on probation terms, after data from the Council of State Governments found that two-thirds of probation revocations happen in the first two years, and 85 percent in the first three years.

One mistake on someone’s record shouldn’t bar them from employment and opportunity for the rest of their lives, especially when those outcomes are the unintended result of poor government policy. Communities and families are better, and safer, when the criminal justice system turns out productive citizens, instead of locking former offenders on a hopeless path.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk

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