About Criminal Justice Reform

The USA and Incarceration

Did you know that the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country?

  • The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but nearly 25% of its incarcerated population.
  • US spending on jails and prisons reached $87B in 2015, an increase of 1000% from the $7.4 billion spent in 1975.
  • In 1972, there were only 200,000 people incarcerated in the United States. Today that number has grown to 2.2 million.
  • From 1980 to 2017, the number of women in jails and prisons in the U.S. grew 750%. Over 225,000 women are incarcerated today.

Source: The Equal Justice Initiative

In 2022 nearly 10 million Americans, including millions of children, have an immediate family member in jail or prison.

Additionally, more than 4.5 million Americans are not eligible to vote because of a past conviction.

It is estimated that the US loses $87 billion in GDP annually due to mass incarceration.

What Organisations Advocate For Criminal Justice Reform?

Here are some national organizations that advocate for reform of the criminal justice & prisons system:

See a full list of organizations: https://centerforprisonreform.org/prison-reform-organizations/

What Federal Legislation Exists To Tackle The Issue

Recently, The First Step Act was enacted under the Trump administration passing with support from both sides of Congress.

The act takes initial steps to alter the federal criminal justice system and ease very punitive prison sentences. Therefore, it affects only the federal system which has around 181K prisoners, a small fraction of the US prison population of 2.1 million. This law allows thousands of people to earn an earlier release from prison and could cut many more prison sentences in the future.

Also, introduced in 2017, the Prison Reform and Redemption Act. This bill directs the Department of Justice to develop the Post-Sentencing Risk and Needs Assessment System for use by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to assess prisoner recidivism risk; guide housing, grouping, and program assignments; incentivize and reward participation in and completion of recidivism reduction programs, and productive activities.

It amends the federal criminal code to

  1. Require the BOP to implement the Post-Sentencing Risk and Needs Assessment System.
  2. Establish prerelease custody procedures for prisoners who, among other things, earn time credits for successfully completing recidivism reduction programs or productive activities.
  3. Prohibit, subject to specified exceptions, the use of restraints on federal prisoners who are pregnant or in postpartum recovery.
  4. Broaden the duties of probation and pretrial services officers to include court-directed supervision of sex offenders conditionally released from civil commitment.

Equally important, the BOP must incorporate de-escalation techniques into its training programs; report on its ability to treat heroin and opioid abuse through medication-assisted treatment; establish pilot programs on youth mentorship and service to abandoned, rescued, or vulnerable animals; and designate a release preparation coordinator at each facility that houses prisoners.

This bill also prohibits monitoring the contents of electronic communication between a prisoner at a BOP facility and the prisoner’s attorney.

In fact, it amends the Second Chance Act of 2007 to reauthorize through FY2022 and modify eligibility criteria for an elderly offender early release pilot program.

To learn more about decarceration policies, initiatives organizations and individuals click here.

Lawyers, Law Schools &  Criminal Justice & Prison Reform

The US prison population has grown exponentially over the last two decades.

In recent years, a greater understanding of the reasons for that growth within the legal profession has encouraged many to look for positive answers and outcomes to the issues.

Law students, law schools, and lawyers from all spheres of the profession have become increasingly proactive in seeking solutions.

For Example

Many law schools around the country have created legal clinics and “innocence projects”, allowing students to work on individual cases, work with disadvantaged communities and build policy platforms to improve outcomes for those drawn into the criminal justice system.

Consequently, from a prosecutorial outlook, DAs and attorneys are also searching for outcomes that look beyond simple punitive solutions. In California, a former LAPD official and recently elected LA DA George Gascón has proposed to stop seeking the death penalty; stop prosecuting children as adults; stop filing additional punishments tagged on to the sentence of gang members; and would no long file three-strikes charges, which required life sentences for people convicted of multiple offenses. Mr. Gascón has also said he will no longer send DAs to parole hearings to oppose release. Also added that he will re-evaluate thousands of cases for resentencing.

To learn more about how lawyers are proactively tackling the issue of prison and criminal justice reform, the Brennan Centre For Justice has a very informative website.

Criminal Justice Reform Cases

Brown v. Plata, 563 U.S. 493 (2011)

This was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States holding that a court-mandated population limit was necessary to remedy a violation of prisoners’ Eighth Amendment constitutional rights. Justice Kennedy filed the majority opinion of the 5 to 4 decision, affirming a decision by a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Eastern and Northern Districts of California which had ordered California to reduce its prison population to 137.5% of design capacity within two years… Click to see more

Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987)

This case dealt with First Amendment rights of inmates to communicate with one another and to marry. Normally First Amendment rights are given the highest protection from infringement and cannot be abridged unless the government has a compelling interest in the restriction. However, in Turner a closely divided court, by a vote of five to four, held that an application of this standard would seriously hamper the ability of prison officials to anticipate security problems and to adopt solutions to what it saw as the “intractable” problems of prison administration… Click to see more

Hudson v. Palmer

Respondent, an inmate at a Virginia penal institution, filed an action in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioner, an officer at the institution, alleging that petitioner had conducted an unreasonable “shakedown” search of respondent’s prison locker and cell and had brought a false charge, under prison disciplinary procedures, of destroying state property against respondent solely to harass him; and that, in violation of respondent’s Fourteenth Amendment right not to be deprived of property without due process of law… Click to see more

Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976)

Respondent state inmate brought this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioners, the state corrections department medical director (Gray) and two correctional officials, claiming that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment for inadequate treatment of a back injury assertedly sustained while he was engaged in prison work. The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Court of Appeals held that the alleged insufficiency of the medical treatment required reinstatement of the complaint… Click to see more

Criminal Justice Reform Case Summaries

Criminal Justice Reform Stories

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Articles do not constitute legal advice.

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