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How can this criminal justice reform be resisted?

| Apr 16, 2021 | Criminal Defense

Criminal charges spell understandably top-tier concerns for those in Colorado and nationally who face them, having the potential to upend life in an incalculably adverse way.

There is no wiggle room on that point, as noted by an authoritative Colorado legal source on criminal law challenges and defense strategies. It stresses that individuals confronting the justice system face a dire threat to “their livelihood, their reputation, their family and their freedom.”

Those multiple (and only partially listed) downsides are emphasized in a recent article authored by the Vera Institute of Justice. That organization is a prominent and independent nonprofit group dedicated to justice reform in the United States.

The Vera piece, written by two institute principals, makes some strong and research-vetted points tied to one city’s seminal efforts to address and reduce crime.

That U.S. metro is Boston, which is on the front burner of news stories relevant to justice reform in the wake of a “bold, headline-grabbing pledge” made in 2018 by then would-be district attorney Rachael Rollins.

Rollins secured her position owing in part to her promise to forgo criminally charging people arrested for various nonviolent and low-level offenses.

That vow resonated with many people, yet badly frightened others.

How have things worked out?

The case for minimizing prosecutions: some relevant data

Here’s a key point concerning criminal misdemeanor cases as noted by Vera and other reform groups: Although such charged crimes are typically viewed as “minor,” the consequences linked with conviction are often severe and lasting. They include these downsides:

  • A permanent and stigmatizing criminal record
  • Adverse sentencing mandates (especially incarceration) that can scar for a lifetime
  • Curbed future opportunities across a broad front (e.g., employment, housing, military service, schooling and more)
  • Lasting debt tied to fines/fees and other exactions
  • Heightened odds of reoffending and yet further sanctions (recidivism)

What Boston’s experience will yield could well turn out to be materially positive based upon new study findings. Here are some takeaways that emerge from scores of thousands of prosecution-diverted cases (e.g., resolution via counseling, drug treatment, occupational training, job placement and other means) reviewed in the Boston area over a multi-year period prior to Rollins’ victory:

  • Material cost savings to taxpayers
  • Reduction in probability of future involvement with criminal authorities
  • Greater – not diminished – public safety
  • No increase in the types of nonviolent misdemeanor crimes not being prosecuted

Vera terms the positive effects of a lighter prosecutorial touch concerning many misdemeanor cases “unmistakable.” And it underscores that “shrinking the footprint of the criminal legal system can bolster the well-being of our communities.”

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