ISSUE #1: Criminal Justice Reform

States led the way in criminal justice reform during 2017, and that work will hopefully continue to evolve.

Criminal justice reform and the impact on the criminal justice system received much attention during the course of 2017, as states recognized that alternatives were needed to the number of overcrowded prisons and to increase the long-term potential of individuals for rehabilitation, family stability, and economic security.  State legislatures played a significant role in developing and implementing sentencing and corrections policies that prioritize public safety, provide accountability for offenders, and make the best use of limited public resources. Many states have pursued reform efforts to expand eligibility for community diversion and treatment programs and to revise mandatory prison sentences.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed many criminal justice reforms into law in 2017, including provisions to make young and elderly prisoners eligible for earlier parole. Other reforms limited sentencing enhancements (years automatically added on to the sentences of people with prior criminal history, such as minor drug crimes) and allowed judges the discretion to add extra jail time if a gun is used in the commission of a crime. The new law also makes it easier for adults and juveniles arrested for minor crimes to have their records sealed.

Other reforms signed into law.

The work of the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force resulted in the enactment of three significant pieces of legislation in 2017. Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill that requires all offenders to receive a validated risk and needs assessment to enable the state corrections department to create an individualized plan for each offender. Additional bills signed by Governor Fallin provided training for law enforcement related to safety for victims of domestic violence and training for district attorneys, judges, and public offenders on substance abuse, behavioral health and the impact of domestic violence.

In 2017, several states advanced reforms around issues such as criminal justice, marijuana legalization, sanctuary cities, and drug pricing. It is likely this trend will continue in 2018 as federal funding decreases and the shift toward deregulation persists.