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State Advocacy News: Expanding Racial Impact Statements

March 01, 2019
Seven states – Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, and Vermont – have introduced legislation this year to require racial impact statements.

Many are motivated to challenge mass incarceration in the fight for racial justice. Organizers and advocates are prioritizing policy goals that address racial disparities by advancing the concept of racial impact statements as a targeted policy intervention. In recent years state campaigns have supported the adoption of these measures in four states to challenge unfair and unequal outcomes in the criminal justice system. Today, lawmakers and advocates continue efforts to advance similar reforms in several states.

Expanding Racial Impact Statements

Racial impact statements are tools for lawmakers, similar to fiscal and environmental statements, to evaluate potential disparities of proposed legislation prior to adoption and implementation. Four states – Iowa, Connecticut, Oregon, and New Jersey – have implemented racial impact statement requirements in addition to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission developing statements without a statutory requirement.

Seven states – Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, and Vermont – have introduced legislation this year to require racial impact statements.

  • Illinois – Several measures were introduced earlier this year to authorize racial impact statements. The measures would require the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority to prepare racial impact statements for every bill that affects pre-trial detention, sentencing, or community supervision. The proposed measures require an explanatory note that includes a reliable estimate of the anticipated impact of criminal law changes on racial and ethnic minorities.
  • Kentucky – Legislation addressing racial impact statements was introduced in January. If enacted, a key provision would require the bill sponsor of a proposed sentencing law with a projected racially disparate outcome to amend the measure, addressing its anticipated effect, or state for the record why the legislative measure should advance.
  • Minnesota – The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission currently produce racial impact statements without a legislative mandate. However, legislation – Senate File 96 – was introduced in the state senate earlier this year to statutorily codify this practice.
  • Mississippi – Lawmakers are considering legislation requiring the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to prepare impact statements for proposed sentencing laws. The current proposal would allow a proposed sentencing law sponsor or the committee of jurisdiction to attach an impact statement using their own analysis if they disagree with the statement published by DPS.
  • New York – State policymakers are considering a racial impact statement measure that includes time requirements to address anticipated disparities in proposed sentencing laws. The impact statement is required to be available thirty days prior to the first committee vote or five days prior to floor debate in the assembly or senate.
  • Oklahoma ­– The state’s proposed racial impact statement law outlines a process for proposed sentencing laws when statements are not provided. The measure directs legislative leadership to delay calendaring new sentencing laws for debate unless a racial impact statement is made available.
  • Vermont – Lawmakers recently introduced racial impact statement legislation that also includes requirements to amend proposed sentencing law if there is an anticipated racially disparate outcome.
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Hearts for Inmates members attend sentencing reform hearing in South Carolina.

Other News

  • Arizona Lawmakers are considering several sentencing reform measures to scale back the state’s prison growth. The bipartisan HB 2270 would scale back the state’s truth in sentencing scheme from 85-percent time served to 65-percent time served for violent offenses, and 50-percent for nonviolent offenses. Lawmakers are also considering SB 1310, which recalibrates the state’s truth-in-sentencing scheme to 70-percent time served for qualifying drug possession offenses.
  • Delaware – The attorney general issued prosecutorial guidance for a range of changes in bail, sentencing, and collateral consequences.  The memorandum outlines presumptive guidelines that emphasize judicial discretion, increases diversion for lower-level offenses, and reduces collateral consequences associated with a criminal record.
  • Florida – Lawmakers introduced the Florida First Step Act – SB 642 – a measure to scale back certain mandatory minimums for eligible nonviolent offenses.
  • Kentucky Policymakers considered HB 91, a measure to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to expand voting rights to residents with felony convictions after sentence completion.
  • Michigan – Policymakers advanced legislation raising the age of criminal prosecution for young defendants from 17 to 18 for qualifying offenses.
  • Minnesota – Legislation to expand voting rights to persons on felony probation and parole was introduced earlier this year.
  • Missouri – House lawmakers considered HB 195, a measure limiting life without parole as a sentencing option and retroactively authorizing a parole review for life-long prisoners who meet certain requirements.
  • Nebraska – Legislators deliberated LB 711, which would authorize voting for any person convicted of a felony including those in prison.
  • South Carolina – Grassroots advocates organized in support of the sentencing reform measure, HB 3322. The measure retroactively recalibrates the state’s truth-in-sentencing requirement from 85-percent time served to 65-percent time served for qualifying offenses.
  • Tennessee  Policymakers are considering legislation – HB 547 and SB 589 – expanding voting rights to residents with felony convictions. The legislation has bipartisan support.
  • Washington  Persons sentenced to life prison terms testified in a public hearing in support of SB 5819. The measure establishes a post conviction review board to consider release for eligible life-long prisoners.
  • West Virginia  Legislation – HB 2459 – expanding food assistance to persons with felony drug convictions cleared both chambers and awaits the governor’s signature.
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