Following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others the nation is demanding justice through direct actions and mass mobilizations in urban centers and rural communities. State coalitions are advocating for a new social contract that minimizes police contact in order to reorient public safety norms. Strategic solutions include a range of recommendations that address racial disparities, reduced law enforcement interactions, and sentencing reforms. These include the following:
Adopting Racial Impact Statements
The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus has included racial impact statements among their legislative priorities on sentencing policies while other measures address police violence. Racial impact statements are a tool for lawmakers to evaluate potential disparities of proposed legislation prior to adoption and implementation. Similar to fiscal impact statements, they assist legislators in detecting unforeseen policy ramifications. Several states – Iowa, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, and Oregon – have implemented mechanisms for the preparation and consideration of racial impact statements. The Mississippi legislation was among several bills introduced this year. Lawmakers in Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Maryland considered similar legislation.
Funding Community Interventions
Several criminal justice reform priorities focus on reducing interactions with police. Coalition demands could prioritize long-term and short-term solutions that include funding early childhood education, youth interventions, and community investments.
- Early Childhood Education – Preschool education is a proven prevention strategy. The High/Scope Perry Preschool Project demonstrates that Head Start and other preschool programs produce both short term and long-term benefits including reduced contact with the criminal justice system through the age of 27.
- Youth Justice – Interventions for justice involved youth include programs that prioritize family interactions. One example is Functional Family Therapy for youth on probation. This therapeutic intervention works with youth ages 11-18 who have been engaged in substance abuse or violence. The program focuses on altering interactions between family members through strengthening problem-solving skills and enhancing emotional connections.
- Community Investment – Studies have shown that organizational participation and informal social control mechanisms can address criminal violence at the neighborhood level. A social process study conducted in Baltimore found that respondents who belonged to a community organization felt responsible for what happened in the area surrounding their home.
Policy changes seeking to control state prison populations often center racial justice. In recent years Missouri and South Carolina revisited state crack-powder sentencing disparities that enhanced penalties for persons convicted of crack cocaine offenses and exacerbated racially disparate sentencing outcomes for African American defendants. Several states scaled back drug-free zones that result in sentencing enhancements also leading to increased racially disparate outcomes. Typically, protected areas are clustered in urban, high-density population areas and the zones disproportionately affect low income African Americans.
- Alabama – Two persons sentenced to life imprisonment for drug trafficking received sentence commutations.
- Connecticut – State incarceration population (combined prison and jail) declined by 50% since the peak population in 2008. COVID-19 mentioned among reasons. It’s been aided in part due to a decline in admissions because of court closures during the pandemic.
- Florida – Federal judge found a law requiring people with felony criminal convictions to pay court fines and fees before they can register to vote unconstitutional.
- Illinois – State advocates are seeking emergency release for certain persons sentenced to life imprisonment under the state’s habitual offender law for an armed robbery offense.
- Iowa – Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation restoring voting rights after persons have paid full restitution to victims; bill becomes effective if the legislature passes a proposed constitutional amendment automatically restoring voting rights for residents with felony convictions.
- Louisiana – Lawmakers adopted legislation to cap parole sentences at three years for nonviolent offenses and seven years for violent offenses for persons who meet certain conditions.
- Oklahoma – State Supreme Court mandated the state to accept over 260,000 signatures collected for a criminal justice reform ballot question that seeks to end sentence enhancements for nonviolent crimes.