Many Americans are currently navigating the criminal justice system more than ever before for various offenses. Several of these citizens face discrimination in the corridors of justice based on socioeconomic status and race. Reforming the legislation is indispensable to end the rampant discriminatory incarceration. For a successful reform, change is needed to end racial profiling and harsh policing, among other problems. Learn why reforming the criminal justice system is critical today more than ever and what to do to be part of it.

What Criminal Justice Reform Means

Criminal justice reform works to eradicate the high number of inmates under correctional control via advocacy and litigation. By pushing for reform at various government levels, it could eliminate the errors before the problems worsen.

No criminal justice system is wholly perfect. Reforms aim to correct these mistakes, and several organizations are involved in this movement in different ways, including:

  • Decriminalizing given statutes, drug policies included.
  • Reducing harsh prison sentences.
  • Prioritizing offender rehabilitation, particularly juvenile offenders.
  • Changing drug sentencing policies to combat drug
  • Altering minimum sentencing laws.
  • Changing policies that govern ex-offenders’ rights to vote and food help programs.

Regardless of how reforms work to better the criminal justice system, it is all about those who the prison system affects. One primary purpose per a USA Today article is the requirement to provide offenders with rehabilitation and redemption after they finish serving their sentences.

Why Reforms Are Critical

America’s population accounts for only five percent of the whole world’s population, but 25% is incarcerated. These numbers show that the country has a serious problem of addressing crime through incarcerating offenders. The primary reasons why the justice system should undergo reform include:

To Eradicate Over Criminalization

Most of the criminal justice system’s problems start with the U.S Code, which has more statutes than anybody could be expected to read or understand. Many crimes are not clearly defined, and this has made counting the number of offenses on the record virtually impossible. The most recent count places the number at more than 4,500, and this does not include more than 300,000 regulatory violations that can subject one to criminal penalties. Most of these laws don’t have a mens rea requirement, meaning if you commit a crime unintentionally, you can be convicted nonetheless.

To Change Law Enforcement and Policing Methods

Dispatching uniformed and armed law enforcers to respond to a 911 call often results in situations such as that which caused Atlanta-based Rayshard Brooks’ demise on 12th June 2020. An estimated 80 percent of nationwide 911 calls aren’t made due to property or violent-related crimes. This shows that they shouldn’t be responded to by the police. Additionally, most people, especially from minority communities, don’t make emergency calls because they’re scared the responders would be law enforcers. Reform needs to happen to ensure the appropriate responders are dispatched on the scene to handle every specific situation, particularly with psychological distress and drug-related cases.

To Address Prison Overcrowding

The United States has nearly seven million people under correctional control. This makes it the leading country in incarceration worldwide. Approximately 2.2 million of these people are incarcerated, while the others are under community-based surveillance, parole, or serving a probation sentence. An estimated 100 million people bear a criminal record. These numbers imply that in every thirty-one adults, one ends up incarcerated. This is a higher possibility than most nations across the world experience.

The issue is that this country’s prisons were not designed to accommodate this high number of people, not to talk of allowing the high amount of taxpayers’ money to ensure proper funding. There’s overcrowding in prisons, and the national government cannot afford prison funding.

But how come so many people are in prison? Most incarcerations aren’t even a result of increased crime rates. They are caused by the need to comply with extremely punitive sentencing laws and policies. Reforming the criminal justice system is necessary to do away with these kinds of laws. Additionally, per Hillary Clinton’s website, most of the inmates are non-violent offenders. Thus, if they were to be released or face alternative punishments, they would create more space in prison. Some critics blame overcrowding in prisons on other issues like mass incarceration because of unjust drug charges.

Combating drug crimes resulted in stricter drug statutes that have led to the number of jailed/imprisoned drug-related offenders rising. Many of these offenders are compelled by drug addiction or mental illness issues. Then, previous offenders often end up in incarceration again or remain there for extremely lengthy sentences because efforts to rehabilitate them are ineffective.

Another major consequence of the criminal justice system we have now is its effect on minority communities – generations are being condemned to the vicious incarceration cycle. It also intensifies racial and social-economic inequalities. These consequences result in unemployment, relapses, or other social impediments – with no actual proof that it averts crime.

The COVID 19 pandemic has also exposed the ineffectiveness of a criminal justice system that depends on incarceration. A Time Magazine study revealed that 39 percent of individuals in prison didn’t pose any danger to the public. Therefore, releasing them would save this country about 20 billion yearly, which is enough money to employ 360,000 probation officers, 327,000 school teachers, or 270,000 new law enforcement officers. Of the 39 percent, 25 percent are non-violent, lower-level offenders who would benefit from other forms of rehabilitation, and 14 percent have already done lengthy sentences for severe offenses and would safely be set free.

Regardless of why overcrowding became a problem, it compromises the prison's capability of meeting fundamental human needs, let alone allow funding for appropriate educational programs and rehabilitation for prisoners or even fund staff training.

To End Racism in Prison Systems

Per the Pew Research Center, the racial statistics in 2016 were as listed below:

  • Caucasians took up 64 percent of the United States’ population. 30 percent of them were in prison.
  • African Americans accounted for 12 percent of the entire population and 33 percent of the prison population.
  • Hispanics accounted for 16 percent of the country’s population, with more than 23 percent in incarceration.

In the United States, persons of color are held in federal and state prisons nationwide at a higher rate than white people. Per these statistics, the incarceration rate of African Americans is five times more than that of whites. In the five states listed below— states occupied mainly with white people— this number increased to a ratio of ten to one:

  • Vermont
  • Minnesota
  • Iowa
  • Wisconsin
  • New Jersey

In Oklahoma, the state having the highest rate of black incarceration in the country, one in fifteen prisoners is a black male above eighteen.

Let’s put this into perspective by comparing the same offense executed by two individuals of two distinct races. Per the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), the likelihood of a black individual being placed under arrest for marijuana possession is four times more than that of a white individual regardless of the rate of marijuana use between these races being nearly the same.

Latinos and Hispanics see an approximately equal racial disparity range, with U.S-based Latinos being imprisoned at nearly 1.5 times more than white people. But still, black people are more than two times likely to end up in incarceration than Hispanics.

Lingering racism is undoubtedly a serious issue within the justice system, be it at the federal or state level. With strictier drug laws, over-criminalization, racial profiling, institutionalized discrimination, and mass incarceration rate contributing to these alarming numbers, the issue also depends on social-economic status. The U.S system does not favor low-class people, and this, in turn, impacts several people of color.

To Enable the Handling of Juvenile Offenders More Appropriately

Juvenile offenders are often prosecuted in adult court per the current justice system and aren’t eligible for parole. Additionally, policing schools and neighborhoods often illegalizes minor crimes and gives rise to avoidable violence. This results in psychological trauma or stigma that can cause increased criminal activity.

Dealing with these challenges requires combined effort across the entire criminal justice system if the number of incarcerations must reduce and the crime rate kept low.

To Reduce Poverty That Continues to inhibit Recidivism and Prevention

Among the issues that contribute to the increased number of incarcerations are mental health and drug use. The money spared for detentions and policing could be best spent on treatment programs and community prevention. Recidivism could also be lowered if the federal Pell Grant for inmates were to be restored.

These grants enabled federal financial aid and education support to rehabilitate those in prison or jail and allow them a second chance. Also, the system mandating people to post cash bail adds to the problem. An estimated three out of five individuals in jail haven’t been convicted for any offense but are so poor to meet the bail amount set by the court.

To Re-Evaluate Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws

Mandatory minimum sentencing refers to the least sentence a judge can impose for a given offense, even if it has unique circumstances. It’s designed as a general guideline for given charges. Every crime has a given amount of time you would serve should the court find you guilty, and mandatory minimums apply in most states currently.

Unluckily, although over half of federal offenders are incarcerated per these provisions, there’s no correlated rise in public safety. Often, prosecutors are motivated to send individuals to prison or jail, and they may choose the charge for which they know will lead to someone being sent there. Sometimes, rather than have the judge determine what sentence a person should face, prosecutors make that determination. This is overly problematic since a judge is an unprejudiced third party without any stakes in the case’s outcome. But the prosecutor may threaten defendants with lengthy sentences to have them plead guilty and, in turn, receive mandatory minimums. 

Some critics argue that these laws need to be re-evaluated and the judge’s power to decide on the defendant’s character or the specific circumstances of a case resulting in harsher sentences taken away.

Because the laws on mandatory minimum sentences are in place, particularly those to do with drugs, the federal prison system has dramatically grown. Federal drug-related statutes subject defendants to the lengthiest maximum prison sentences than any other offense you could be charged with, with some going up to forty years in prison or life imprisonment for large drug quantities. Even small drug quantities can subject you to years in prison, but the actual problem here is the unjust sentencing for drug-related offenses that target low-class offenders.

The Anti-Drug Abuse of 1986 dictates a minimum five-year prison sentence for 500g of cocaine, 5g of crack, 40g of fentanyl, 1kg of heroin, 5g of meth, 100kg of marijuana. 5g of crack is highly different from 500g of cocaine, for example, when these two are similar.

The law on mandatory minimums and drug statutes affecting drug offenders are particularly rough on lower-level offenders. With harsher laws and sentences imposed against drug addicts, persons of color, and the poor who cannot afford legal representation, non-violent drug crimes are common. Depending on the incapability of low-level offenders to trade crucial info on criminal organizations, most people do not stand a chance whether they are guilty of the alleged offense or not. Maybe that is why approximately 95% of federal drug offense defendants enter a guilty plea each year.

To Reassess The 1994 Crime Bill

Not only did the 1994 crime bill increase the length and number of incarcerations, but it also increased the funding that was channeled into building prisons and jails. Additionally, the likelihood of early release went down. These measures increased the amount of taxpayers’ money invested in enforcement and resulted in a varying number of incarcerations among African-American men. Its impact on public safety was minimal.

Talk About Criminal Justice Reform With an Attorney Near Me

Many organizations and lawyers across the nation are advocating for criminal justice system reform. Most states will also have a reform act. The push for reform has been going well in California, which has always been a leader in this field. Reform activists are working on having extreme and harsh prison sentences, drug sentencing policies changed, offender rehabilitation prioritized, various laws decriminalized, and mandatory minimum sentencing laws changed. You can also be part of the criminal justice reform. Talk to a criminal defense lawyer near you and discuss recent reforms that may affect you. If you are in Los Angeles, CA, contact the Law Office of Sara L. Caplan, at 310-550-5877, and we will help you with your concerns.