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We list 27 “winnable, high-impact” state legislative reforms that would change the justice system and save lives in 2021

Our new “Winnable Criminal Justice Reforms” report lists 27 policy ideas for state legislators, as well as model bills and links to more information on each policy.

by Wanda Bertram, January 27, 2021

This report has been updated with a new version for 2022.

The new president and new Congress are stirring hopes for federal criminal justice reform, but in 2021 — just like every other year — it is state legislators who will have the power to free the most people from prisons and jails.

Because the vast majority of people locked up in this country are held in facilities controlled by state and local lawmakers, we’ve just published a report about 27 winnable criminal justice reforms that state legislators can take on. Our report includes links to model bills and studies supporting each of our recommended reforms.

Getting people out of prisons and jails — and out of the “nets” of constant surveillance that can get them thrown back in prison for minor violations — is a matter of life and death this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to kill people behind bars. Our list of reforms ripe for legislative victory includes many policy changes that will save lives during the pandemic, including:

  • Funding non-police responses to crises involving people with disabilities or mental illnesses
  • Decriminalizing youth offenses and ending the prosecution of youth as adults
  • Radically reducing pretrial detention and ending money bail
  • Updating the dollar threshold for felony theft
  • Ending incarceration for noncriminal violations of probation and parole
  • Ending driver’s license suspensions for nonpayment of fines and fees
  • Eliminating medical copays in prisons and jails

Our full report on winnable criminal justice reforms includes more ideas for reducing state prison populations, eliminating burdensome costs for incarcerated people, supporting people leaving prison, and promoting public health and community safety.

This week, we’re mailing our report to hundreds of state legislators and urging them to introduce these critical reforms. Will your state make criminal justice reform a priority in 2021?

4 responses:

  1. judy wilkinson says:

    My ex is serving a brutal 37 year sentence under the 3 strikes law. He went in in 2002. Two of his priors were PC 459, which the Gallardo CA Supreme Court case held were not predicates for a strike. We were so elated and hopeful but he has not been released nor have his petitions been granted. I pray for his speedy release soon! Most of the prison at Avenal got Covid, including him. His work and programs have been canceled as has visitation. It’s heartbreaking!

    1. Hi Judy- I’m so sorry to hear that he is still in prison. If you haven’t already, you might want to let the Three Strikes Project at Stanford know about his case:

  2. sarah says:

    my loved one just got a memo. apparently, Kentucky has permanently reduced the number of programs inmates can take, and the amount of time that will take off their sentence for doing them. it went from 90 days for a 6-month program to 60. they are over 100% capacity in both jails and prisons. they are people that are sleeping on the floor. all but one prison has had an outbreak of coivd. many of the programs are mental health and parenting programs. their solution? open up a few more private prisons. what is sad, many of these inmates would have already completed these programs and they were not allowed to because of covid. my loved one has been waiting over a year to do the sap program and was denied parole for not completing it along with another one that he was denied when he requested to be placed in it.

    1. Hi Sarah- that’s awful to hear. Thank you for letting us know.

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