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2018 saw a ton of reforms and other trends that sided with activists against mass incarceration, but there’s no denying that the United States still has the highest incarceration rates in the entire world with about 7 million people within criminal justice supervision, 2.2 million citizens residing within jail or prison and about 4.6 million Americans being monitored or on probation or parole.
Some of the changes we’ve seen in actual sentencing laws and other criminal justice policies, and not necessarily higher crime rates, have contributed greatly to this incredibly high incarceration rate. As most people understand, fighting mass incarceration will require policy changes that would be monumental in terms of racial equality and in general how we treat American prisoners.
We’re happy to have partnered up with a tampa criminal defense attorney to help collaborate with us on this list of some of the projected reforms within this highly contested, political and socioeconomic subject. What we’re going to go over in this article are some of the recent 2018 changes that have occurred and those changes that are projected to occur throughout the rest of 2019.
There have been a lot of different states that have enacted laws that have helped reduce state prison populations. One of these recent laws is Senate Bill 1437 in California that helps people who were accomplices in murders and homicides to not get life sentences without parole, because they weren’t the actual killers. It also helps murderers petition for sentence reforms under some rather specific qualifications.
Amendment 11 was passed in Florida, which creates retroactive reforms. This essentially changes the law allowing for the state government to change people’s sentences after convictions. This is just a slight change to Florida’s laws, but it will make a huge difference for certain criminals who have shown stellar behavior after being convicted of crimes.
There are also some other states that have adopted a whole array of progressive reforms to their criminal justice systems, including Oklahoma, Michigan and Mississippi. They’ve helped to improve their ways of reviewing parole, placing limitations on incarceration for those who violate their parole, and creating punishments for particular parole offenses.
Sentence reform is something that is set to continue to be a major topic amongst state legislators throughout the entire country in 2019, and it’s a really big part of reforming the mass incarceration issue in the United States because it’s now going to allow prisoners to have more of a chance at a life after prison.
About 6 million people couldn’t vote in 2016 because they were convicted of felonies, and this is a law that is starting to be addressed in more recent times as outdated. Voting rights were expanded within Florida to allow about 1.4 million voters with felony convictions so they weren’t disenfranchised any longer (64% of the vote). A lot of states still have lifetime felony voting bans, and this is going to be a hot topic throughout 2019, and especially going into the 2020 elections.
But in 2018 we did see a lot of progress within states like Louisiana, Colorado, New York and more expanding voting rights to those convicted with a felony. There were some other reforms within these states that also helped those on parole to vote, but it’s going to continue to be a really big topic within the United States for most likely the next couple of years.
This is a huge problem within our criminal justice system because we as a society are starting to wake up to these issues and understand that we can build better laws that can make a big difference later on if we do expand voting rights to those who have been incarcerated and know how it feels.
Racial Disparity Issues
There’s no denying the racial disparities in our criminal justice programs and in 2018 Florida enacted Senate Bill 1392, which requires certain data to be made public in order to help their state system address these types of disparities. They’ll utilize a databank that holds all kinds of criminal information that will be open to the public.
In Connecticut, lawmakers can now request racial impact statements. This is similar to a senator requesting environmental of fiscal statements, and because this is now much easier for legislators to do they’ll be much more capable of challenging racial disparities through obtaining the data they need to present compelling arguments on the senate floor.
2019 is going to see a lot of debate about these types of racial issues within our criminal systems, and by helping enact laws that enable lawmakers to go out and more easily make a difference we are going to see some brave politicians step into the spotlight to fight for what’s right.
Abolishing Servitude and Involuntary Slavery
This sounds like something during the Civil War Era, but it actually is the literal language of the Colorado Constitution that was just removed in 2018. It’s pretty sad to hear this coming up in this day and age, but it’s a good thing that the grand state of Colorado did get this language removed so never again can someone actually be punished for a crime with a sentence of involuntary servitude.
Young Defendant Changes
This is a particular change in Missouri in which the state passed a law stating that the minimum age to automatically be tried as an adult would change from 17 to 18. This is a big change for Missouri, and it’s going to continue to be a hot issue within certain states that have these types of laws.
This is huge for mass incarceration because when someone is charged as an adult at 17 it really can set them up for a lifetime of problems with the law in some cases, whereas if they are allowed a little bit of leeway at that age it could help them mend their ways just before it’s too late.
There are many other aspects to mass incarceration and the criminal justice system that need to be changed, but these above changes are putting us in the right direction!