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State Advocacy Update: Getting Ready for 2018

September 29, 2017
As 2018 approaches, advocates are readying efforts on sentencing reform and challenges to racial disparity in the criminal justice system.

Getting Ready for 2018

As 2018 approaches, advocates are readying efforts on sentencing reform and challenges to racial disparity in the criminal justice system. State advocates are identifying new policy goals, developing campaign plans, and mobilizing coalition support.  Get in touch with The Sentencing Project if you want help with your state reform efforts. Currently, we are working on state specific research on sentencing and collateral consequences. We also offer strategic advocacy and communications support for issue campaigns.

Challenging Mass Incarceration in Nebraska

Policy advocates and community organizers prioritized a range of measures in 2017 to scale back incarceration rates.  In Nebraska, two lawmakers advanced efforts to repeal certain mandatory minimum penalties as a practical solution to reduce the prison population. Sen. Ernie Chambers, an Independent, sponsored legislation to repeal mandatory minimums for certain felony offenses. Sen. Paul Schumacher, a Republican and former county attorney, introduced a bill to allow the sentencing judge and two other judges randomly selected by the Nebraska Supreme Court’s chief justice to review individual cases and determine whether a mandatory minimum is appropriate for nonviolent drug offenses. The measures were debated on the Senate floor in the unicameral legislature but did not become law. 

The ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit to address prison overcrowding in August. At the time, Nebraska’s prisons incarcerated 5,217 persons, about 160 percent over their design capacity. At a recent judiciary committee hearing, policymakers debated reforming mandatory minimums as a way to reduce the prison population and discussed legislative strategies to achieve that. 

Campaign Planning

The next few months will be a great time to educate lawmakers on reform priorities. Before the session begins, advocates can help to elevate criminal justice reform priorities in a crowded legislature where thousands of bills can be introduced. Regardless of capacity and political environment, state groups can develop focused campaigns that advance practical policy goals. 

In Oklahoma, organizers are gearing up to educate lawmakers on expanding parole eligibility for currently ineligible sentences. Advocates in Florida and Mississippi are working to expand voting rights to people with felony convictions. Reformers in South Carolina are preparing to reintroduce legislation to scale back truth-in-sentencing policy from an 85-percent time served requirement to 65-percent. 

Lawmakers and their staff rely on state advocates. Many state policymakers are citizen legislators who have limited subject matter expertise and need research assistance and other support. The weeks before the legislature convenes can be helpful in identifying what tactics and strategies are needed. 

Other News:

California – A package of criminal justice reform bills await the governor’s signature. One measure – SB 394 – would bring the state into compliance with recent Supreme Court decisions and authorize young persons sentenced to life without parole to have a parole hearing after 25 years. 

Maryland – Groups opposed a mandatory minimum proposal considered by the Baltimore City Council. In response to increasing crime, lawmakers considered and narrowly passed a one-year mandatory minimum law for certain gun offenses. The measure was considerably scaled back in response to community resistance. 

Missouri – The Justice Reinvestment Taskforce, established by Gov. Eric Greitens, met to discuss criminal justice reform and explore strategies to address the state’s incarceration growth. The Taskforce is expected to publish the report by the end of 2017.

Oklahoma – Lawmakers announced interim hearings to consider sentencing reforms including expanding parole to persons serving life without parole prison terms.  

Rhode Island – Legislators advanced a package of six bills to address criminal justice policy. One measure adjusts the maximum penalty for assault with a dangerous weapon from 20 years to six years if serious bodily injury did not occur.

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