Many state advocates are in the process of getting ready for the next legislative session. Planning may involve organizing strategy meetings or engaging new coalition partners. Preparing for next year is leading many state advocates to assess policy goals that address mass incarceration and enhance grassroots communication strategies among state-based networks.
Reclassifying Felony Offenses:
Advocates are exploring a range of policy solutions to reduce state prison populations, and should consider recent legislative reforms. Earlier this year lawmakers in Connecticut reclassified the penalty for felony drug possession from a seven-year maximum sentence (2 years mandatory if within 1,500 feet of a school or daycare center) to a misdemeanor with a maximum of one year in jail, and no mandatory jail sentence. Similar to California’s Proposition 47, the measure also authorized an expedited pardon process for persons with specified nonviolent felony convictions.
Scaling Back Mandatory Minimums:
Other policy remedies include reforming statutory mandatory minimums. This year, lawmakers in North Dakota and Maryland scaled back certain mandatory minimum sentences. Legislators in North Dakota authorized departures from mandatory minimum sentences; the bill requires judges to report departures to state court administrator, who will publish an annual report documenting the frequency of the departures. Maryland lawmakers allowed judges to depart from certain mandatory minimums for drug offenses, including manufacturing and distribution.
- Alabama and Texas – Legislators scaled back the federal lifetime ban on public benefits for persons with felony drug convictions. A call has been scheduled to hear from state advocates. Interested? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- California – Officials agreed to overhaul the use of solitary confinement as part of a settlement of long-standing litigation.
- Tennessee – Groups including the Tennessee NAACP and Tennessee Consultation on Criminal Justice sent a letter advocating changes in the state’s sentencing structure to the governor’s Taskforce on Sentencing and Recidivism. National groups also sent a letter in collaboration with state based advocates.