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Criminal justice advocates: the time for material reform is now

On Behalf of | Jan 13, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Talk is, well, cheap. State and federal proponents of criminal law reforms – and there are legions in a progressively expanding camp – voice growing frustration with pro-change rhetoric they say is long on generalities and short on details.

A principal with the nonprofit group Sentencing Project duly concedes that “there’s bipartisan consensus around the need for criminal justice reform.”

Consensus alone does not drive purposeful change, though, says Project Director Kara Gotsch. What reform advocates want is a strong zeroing in on specifics. The challenge, stresses Gotsch, is in spotlighting and addressing “the fine print.”

Where real reform challenges and opportunities reside

It is arguably unsurprising that a persistent clarion call for justice reform has suddenly grown louder across the country. New hopes relevant to many spheres broadly arise each time a new president takes power.

An in-depth legal article on key areas for criminal reform underscores that reality. It notes a newly “sparked hope” that the incoming administration will “strengthen America’s commitment to justice and reform the criminal justice system.”

Adjustment seekers can easily list dozens of changes they would like to see implemented. Here are a few proposals that top their agenda:

  • Responding to Covid-19’s sadly adverse effects on incarcerated populations
  • Eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing terms, particularly for lower-level drug offenders
  • Significantly decriminalize behavior in the drug crimes area, especially concerning charges relating to possession and personal use
  • Greater emphasis on law enforcement controls, chiefly “policing oversight and accountability”
  • Less of a focus on jail/prison-first outcomes and more sentencing dispositions that explore incarceration alternatives and community involvement

All of those ideas are supplemented by a host of detailed and dive-down supplementary recommendations. Reformers note, for example, that incoming President Biden could use his broad clemency powers in response to prison overcrowding. States could be motivated to enact reform measures by linking activity to federal funding. And qualified immunity could be eliminated for bad actors in the justice system seeking safeguards against liability for wrongful actions.

The above-cited proposals are just a few representative examples of broad changes that reform proponents insist are an imperative for a progressively ailing justice system.

Their urgings seem well-timed and reasonably argued. Numerous studies and reports routinely spotlight the globally unrivaled U.S. prisoner population, both on a per-capita basis and in absolute terms.