Law \ Legal

Criminal Justice Reform Laws Are Taking Center Stage Nationwide


Across the country, lawmakers look to tackle criminal justice reform, but not all states are taking the same approach.

In Memphis, Tennessee, lawmakers voted to create policies to limit the police department’s use of force after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by law enforcement in 2020, Eliza Fawcett and Jessica Jaglois report for the New York Times.

Memphis eliminated “no-knock warrants,” and emphasized officers taking de-escalation strategies. 

But the death of Trye Nichols following a “confrontation” with five Memphis police officers captured on video shows the cracks in the departments’ efforts at reform. 

Meanwhile, in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis gave a speech in Miami on “preserving Law and Order.”

During the speech, DeSantis highlighted decreasing crime rates and touted the rejection of “defunding the police” from the state of Florida, which never took up the once popular initiative, Sam Sachs reports for WFLA. 

“Right now, the state of Florida, our crime rate is at a 50-year low,” DeSantis said in the speech. “Overall crime is down nearly 10 percent year-over-year, murder down 14 percent, burglary down 15 percent, and robbery down 7 percent year-over-year.” He added that in Miami, murders fell 15 percent from 2020 to 2021, then slipped another 38 percent in the first half of 2022.

But other states are still considering additional reforms, notably in less conservative states than Florida and Tennessee. 

In New York, a push to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences is brewing, joining issues like bail reform, parole reform and sealing criminal records as hot points of the reform debate, Shantel Destra reports for City and State. 

Advocates in the state have recently pushed for the Clean Slate Act, as the more extensive package, the “Communities Not Cages” legislative package,” would include the Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Act, the Second Look Act and the Earned Time Act.

The legislation in the larger package focuses on reducing prison sentences, while the Clean Slate Act focuses on sealing criminal records.

Elsewhere, Maryland is weighing legislation on compassionate releases. 

In the state, compassionate releases were denied nearly three times as often as granted since 2013, with 464 denials and 149 accepted, Dylan Segelbaum reports for the Baltimore Banner. 

Under Maryland law, people must be “so chronically debilitated or incapacitated” from a health condition, disease, or syndrome that they are “physically incapable of presenting a danger to society” to qualify for medical parole.

However, there are no specific guidelines for the conditions that would meet the standards of the language of the law. 

In addition, incarcerating older individuals comes at a higher cost when releasing them poses a scant public safety risk.

According to a 2017 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Maryland spent over $7,000 per prisoner on health care costs in 2015. According to a separate Pew study, the cost increased by 11 percent from 2010.

The state’s General Assembly is considering legislation to reform medical and geriatric parole.

The bill requires “the Maryland Parole Commission to consider the age of an inmate when determining whether to grant parole; altering how the Commission evaluates a request for medical parole; and requiring the Commission to develop procedures for assessing parole requests by certain inmates.”

“It’s more humane. It’s more economical. And it is more attuned to the real public safety needs,” said State Senator Shelly Hettleman, the bill’s lead sponsor. “I think it will go a long way to really addressing the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our community who are behind bars and who are a significant economic burden to the state.”

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