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State Advocacy News: Mid Session Trends in 2021

April 28, 2021
In addition to police reforms, state coalitions mobilized in support of anti-racist solutions to counter the nation’s punitive and discriminatory criminal legal system.

Alabama Students Against Prisons protest mass incarceration

The United States is experiencing a racial reckoning following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright and so many more. In addition to police reforms, state coalitions mobilized in support of anti racist solutions to counter the nation’s punitive and discriminatory criminal legal system.

Opposing Racist Criminal Legal Policies

Three states – Maine, Maryland, and Virginia – approved racial impact statement policies to intentionally consider the impact of proposed sentencing laws and other policies on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. Legislation was introduced in Kentucky, Nebraska, and Oklahoma too. The Sentencing Project testified and provided technical assistance to support state campaign partners advancing racial impact statement practices.

Challenging Extreme Sentences

The Sentencing Project convenes a weekly/biweekly conference call with state advocates focused on challenging extreme sentences. Several of our partners have seen momentum this year, and state campaigns in Alabama, California, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and New York are organizing around legislative remedies.

  • California’s Drop LWOP (Life without Parole) campaign organized support for SB 300, legislation to expand sentencing options for persons who did not kill or intend for a person to die during the commission of a crime. Similar legislation was introduced in Florida.
  • Iowa advocates succeeded in advancing HF 377, an effort that would create a pathway for release for some serving life sentences.
  • New York advocates launched the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice to anchor statewide grassroots support to establish a presumption of release for elder prisoners among other solutions.

Stopping New Prisons

Activists in Alabama, Nebraska, and Massachusetts are working to stop new prison construction while advocating that states fund efforts to prevent incarceration. The Sentencing Project joined Alabama Students Against Prisons and their coalition partners of unlikely allies to oppose proposed mega prisons. The coalition successfully pressured Barclays Capital and KeyBanc Capital Markets to stop financing a $3 billion deal with CoreCivic to build and lease two Alabama prisons, though state officials are still exploring new private prison construction. Efforts to stop new prisons are also underway in Massachusetts and Nebraska.

Other reform developments The Sentencing Project is prioritizing:

  • California: Advocates are working to retroactively apply last year’s Racial Justice Act, AB 256, which would extend civil rights protections in state courts to persons charged or convicted of a crime using racial bias.
  • Illinois: Legislators considered several measures – HB 1064 and HB 1821 – that would end extreme sentencing for persons under 21.
  • Maine: Policymakers considered legislation reinstating parole.
  • Maryland: Lawmakers passed legislation improving ballot access for incarcerated voters. HB 222 establishes notification requirements for eligible voters with felony convictions and SB 525 requires a ballot dropbox for the Baltimore City Centralized booking facility.
  • Maryland: The assembly overrode the governor’s veto to enact HB 409, the Juvenile Restoration Act, to end life without parole sentences for people under 18.
  • New Mexico: SB 257 to end juvenile life without parole passed the Senate.
  • New York: Governor Cuomo signed S2836/A2277A to restrict solitary confinement and expand therapeutic options for incarcerated persons, while the legislature passed a bill to expand voting rights to persons on parole.
  • Oregon: Lawmakers considered HB 2825, a measure allowing retroactive resentencing for defendants whose physical, psychological or sexual abuse was a contributing factor to the crime of conviction.
  • South Dakota: The Senate approved SB 146 to end life without parole for people under 25.
  • Tennessee: The Senate passed SB 561 to reduce time served requirement for parole reviews.
  • Virginia: Governor Ralph Northmam signed legislation to abolish the death penalty.
  • Washington: Rep. Tarra Simmons, who survived a prison sentence, championed legislation, which was signed into law, restoring voting rights to persons under community supervision.
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