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‘Changes Are a Comin’

by Anthony Accurso

It seems like everyone is talking about criminal justice reform these days. Cross-partisan reforms are happening throughout the county as politicians of nearly all stripes seem to have emerged from a lock’em up binge into the next morning hangover of mass incarceration.

Most of the attention has gone to the First Step Act, signed by President Trump in December 2018. C.J. Ciaramella, writing for reason.com, called First Step a “baby step” that “was almost painfully modest in scope.”

There is certainly truth in this description as the impact has, so far, been smaller than many prisoners and reformers hoped for and envisioned. Thousands of prisoners are still anxiously awaiting the full implementation of several, possibly more impactful, provisions of the new law.

But the Federal Bureau of Prisons is only responsible for a small fraction of the prisoners in this country, and states have seen the necessity for reforms, too.

Quoted in “Criminal Justice Reform Is Having a (Long Overdue) Moment” on reason.com, Florida Senator Jeff Brandes, a Republican, said: “The truth is the state can’t afford 96,000 inmates, not without spending hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars a year and pulling that money from education or health care, which it doesn’t want to do.” 

Florida, Missouri, and North Carolina have all considered state-level versions of the First Step Act this year.

John Pfaff’s recent book, Locked In, explores the data behind mass incarceration and what’s really driving it. He concludes that charging decisions by county prosecutors are one of the single largest drivers of this problem. However, voters appear to have listened to him and elected reform-minded DAs in Birmingham, Alabama; Suffolk County (Boston), Massachusetts; Queens, New York; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Though some of these district attorneys have met resistance in punishment-oriented judges, voters are starting to pay attention to judges, too, many of whom are elected.

Even celebrities are getting in on the action. Meek Mill has been telling anyone who’ll listen that the time for reform is now.  Kim Kardashian West is using her influence with Donald Trump to help things along. Setting her sights on the trenches though, she is reportedly studying for the California bar exam. 

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Sources: reason.com, John Pfaff’s ‘Locked In’

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