A new group led by 130 police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs, including some prominent law enforcement officials, today laid out their ideas for reducing incarceration in the United States while maintaining public safety. At a briefing in Washington, D.C., the group issued a statement of principles it said could be a blueprint for “reducing incarceration and crime at the same time.” The statement declares that, “We can build a fairer and smarter criminal justice system that continues to protect public safety.”
In general, the law enforcers, calling themselves Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, are seeking alternatives to arrests, reducing the number of criminal penalties and and reducing mandatory minimum prison sentences. They will meet tomorrow with President Obama. Its leaders include New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton and police chiefs Charlie Beck of Los Angeles and Garry McCarthy of Chicago, as well as prosecutors such as Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.
One of the group’s major principles is that police departments and prosecutors should “adopt policies that prioritize mental health and drug treatment instead of arrests and prosecution, when law enforcement has the discretion to choose this alternative and it would not harm public safety.”
The group also wants to “restore balance to our criminal laws through efforts such as the reclassification of crimes. We urge Congress and state legislatures to take up changes to reclassify nonviolent felonies as misdemeanors or eliminate petty or duplicative offenses from criminal codes, where appropriate.” California took such an approach last year when voters approved Proposition 47.
A third principle urged by the group is to reduce the number of mandatory minimum sentences set by law and to “reduce maximum sentences.” The group’s leaders vow to “identify and speak out against unnecessarily harsh and counterproductive laws.” They say that, “Judges should be allowed more flexibility in sentencing and the discretion to determine appropriate punishments. With proportional sentences, we can reduce both sentence lengths and the likelihood individuals will commit further crimes.”
A final proposition from the group is to strengthen ties between law enforcement and the community. “We support police departments' collaboration with neighborhood residents in developing policies that identify community problems and implement solutions to produce meaningful results,” the group said. “Similarly, we support prosecutors' offices in adopting policies informed by community concerns on crime. To better understand these concerns, prosecutors should work within communities and encourage open dialogue on how best to serve neighborhoods.”
The organization urged law enforcement agencies at all levels “to train officers and prosecutors in procedural justice and police legitimacy to more effectively engage with community members.”
The report is available HERE.
Ted Gest is President of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.