Spotlight on Criminal Justice: National Criminal Justice Month – March
In order to “promote societal awareness regarding the causes and consequences of crime, as well as strategies for preventing and responding to crime,” the U.S. Congress declared March as National Criminal Justice Month in 2009. This annual observance offers an opportunity to highlight the most current criminological research and corresponding efforts to enhance public safety. In the spirit of raising awareness of some of the most pressing issues facing policymakers, criminal justice professionals and the general public, we have identified several areas in which alternative policies and practices can enhance community safety and preserve precious taxpayer dollars.
Did You Know?
Did you know that simply being booked into jail—for any length of time—can rapidly increase likelihood of rearrest or reoffense? This often makes communities less safe than pursuing alternatives to arrest, particularly for those struggling with mental health or substance abuse.
Employing strategies such as citation in lieu of arrest and police-led deflection can help address crime stemming from social service issues like mental illness, substance use and poverty that have traditionally driven people into the criminal justice system. Police-led deflection empowers police officers to identify the scenarios in which individuals can safely be deflected or diverted from traditional criminal processing and connected with the services they need to remain law-abiding. These approaches are more effective and less costly, reduce the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction, and help to rebuild police-community relationships by addressing the root causes of frequent police contact.
Did you know that more than 80 percent of individuals currently in local jails are being held pre-trial, meaning that they have not even been convicted of a crime? Of these, more than 60 percent remain incarcerated pre-trial due to a simple inability to pay the set monetary bail set.
Over the past few years, several states have made modifications to their bail laws to address this glaring due process issue. While the changes vary on a state-by-state basis, the general consensus driving the bail reform movement is that current systems are ineffective and inequitable. New Jersey, which implemented its bail reform measures in 2017, is considered a “success” as pre-trial detention populations decreased 20 percent and over the same period, the state saw a decrease in crime rates. Under the New Jersey bail changes, most defendants face a presumption of release, but courts can detain defendants who are a public safety risk. This favors a system that gives judges discretion to hold or release defendants awaiting trial based on their risk of flight and reoffense, reducing the disparities of a cash-based system.
Did you know that the federal government considers cannabis a more harmful substance than cocaine, fentanyl and other substances? Currently, cannabis is a Schedule I controlled substance, with the government claiming it has a high potential for abuse and dependence with no medicinal benefits.
We now have scientific evidence demonstrating that cannabis actually has several useful medical applications, little risk of abuse and a low risk of dependence, contrary to its current classification. The majority of the states have passed legislation reflecting these facts and permits either adult recreational cannabis use, medicinal use or both. Thoughtful, smart federal cannabis legalization has the potential to enhance public safety by reducing negative police-citizen interactions, improving police legitimacy, restoring police-community partnerships and reallocating resources to help address the recent surge in homicides.
Did you know that in almost half of states, kids of any age can be arrested for a crime? Twenty-four states still don’t have any age limits at all when it comes to prosecuting juveniles.
In 2019, a lack of common sense age guidelines in Florida led to the arrest of a six-year-old. Traumatic body camera footage of the incident captured the young girl’s desperate cries as she pleaded not to be handcuffed. Despite her obvious distress, she was left alone in the back of a police cruiser, before being booked, photographed and fingerprinted. Her crime? Throwing a temper tantrum. The ordeal prompted Florida lawmakers to raise the minimum age of arrest, prohibiting anyone under the age of seven from being detained, unless they have committed a serious felony. Armed with evidence that young children lack the cognitive capacity to stand trial, lawmakers in many states have raised the age that juveniles can be arrested for a crime.
Record Sealing and Expungement
Did you know that one in three Americans has a criminal record that hinders their ability to secure stable housing, education, gainful employment, and access to food and financial assistance? These individuals are 27 percent more likely to be unemployed, which is a direct predictor of increased homelessness and recidivism, unnecessarily increasing survival crime communities.
Yet, research indicates that people who remain law-abiding for years following their arrest or conviction are less likely to commit crime than their employed counterparts without a criminal record. At both the federal and state level, legislators can alleviate record-based discrimination and protect public safety by pursuing smart record sealing and expungement policies that offer true second chances to those who have made mistakes or offended in their past. Specifically, Clean Slate policies automate this practice, taking away the current burdensome processes which severely limit the utility of existing petition-based record sealing and expungement.
These strategies are rooted in evidence-based practices that are more effective and efficient than the status quo, default manner in which we traditionally address law violations, alleged law violators, and those arrested, charged or convicted of a criminal offense. In order to meet the needs of an increasingly complex society, it is imperative that we let research- and evidence-based initiatives guide our contemporary approach to addressing the causes and consequences of crime and our efforts to prevent and respond to crime.