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Executive actions a good first step to forge criminal justice reform

| Feb 16, 2021 | Criminal Defense

The “first foray.”

That is how an in-depth piece on American criminal law reform describes the value of so-called executive actions as tools employed by the federal government to promote a more rational and fair justice system.

Executive actions have prominently gained traction in recent years from their progressively increasing use by successive presidential administrations.

As noted in a recent article written under the auspices of the nonpartisan policy institute Center for American Progress (CAP), such actions do not command status as formally enacted legislation. They are not law per se but, rather, interim presidential dictates that can immediately address matters of concern and make select adjustments. The aforementioned article notes that they can “quickly eliminate bad policies put in place by a previous administration” and set an agenda for change going forward.

That is clearly how the new presidential administration envisions them as President Biden liberally makes use of his singular powers via executive action prerogatives.

Executive orders already announced this year

Criminal justice reform is prominently spotlighted in many executive orders implemented in the early innings of the Biden presidency. The new administration has already taken these actions:

  • Reinstated an Obama-era policy that barred contractual arrangements between the federal government and private prison companies
  • Reinstated the once-emphasized use of individualized assessments in charging/sentencing determinations in lieu of prosecutorial strategies routinely seeking maximally harsh outcomes for defendants

Reform voices within CAP and other advocacy groups – along with an ever-growing swath of the American public – staunchly favor material justice reform. The further use of executive orders to forge positive change in the criminal law realm is broadly endorsed across a host of possibilities.

Further recommendations for executive action employment

The CAP piece strongly endorses – as a prerequisite to eventual legislation – the immediate implementation of these executive orders:

  • Heavy clamp on military equipment transferrable to policies agencies for surveillance and enforcement purposes (material curbs were implemented during the Obama administration but removed several years ago during the Trump presidential era)
  • Reinstitution of a Science Advisory Board to inform on justice matters ranging broadly from racial inequity and punitive sentencing to community reintegration and more (again, an operative program during the Obama era that the Trump government subsequently disbanded)
  • Increased hiring and input solicited of “justice-involved” people who can offer singularly important advice and guidance on reform measures owing to their past status as offenders

The stated bottom line stressed by CAP is this: The new presidential team should quickly seek “to reinstitute policies that were seeded in prior (read pre-Trump) administrations as the starting point to more transformative change.”

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