Justice Reformers Launch Scorecard on Progress in a ‘Watershed’ Year

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A national criminal justice advocacy and research group has launched a project that tracks major trends and developments in criminal justice throughout the country, focusing on 12 key areas of the justice system.

The State of Justice Report, released by the Vera Institute of Justice, also peers at the system through a number of different “lenses,” spotlighting bipartisan coalitions, racial justice, disability rights, and public health issues.

Vera, calling 2017 a “watershed year for criminal justice,” points to New Jersey’s lead on bail reform under a Republican governor, as well as other states that passed legislation limiting money bail and/or pretrial detention, such as Kentucky, Connecticut, New Mexico, and California. Locally, New Orleans passed a bail reform ordinance; and both Philadelphia and San Francisco issues reports on the impact of cash bail, signalling that leaders are taking a serious look at revising the system.

According to Vera, last year brought a growing recognition of the connection between domestic abuse and gun violence. While there has long been a preponderance of data linking intimate partner homicides and guns, “gaps in laws, policies, and practices in many jurisdictions continue to allow people subject to domestic violence protection orders or who have been charged with domestic violence crimes to possess firearms,” the authors write.

Last year, a bipartisan coalition of federal lawmakers introduced legislation to strengthen background checks on gun owners. And “eight states (Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington) adopted laws restricting gun ownership for people convicted of domestic violence or subject to a restraining order, bringing the total number of states with such laws to 27.”

Other bipartisan efforts that made progress last year were improvements to how sexual assault evidence is processed (SAFER Act of 2017), as well as state-level reforms in Louisiana and Massachusetts. Finally, says Vera, Democrats and Republicans around the country are pushing back against the Trump administration’s “tough on crime” agenda.

Vera Institute’s chapters on opioids, policing, bail, prosecutions, public defense, jails, youth justice, immigration justice, victims, sentencing and decriminalization, prisons, and reentry can be explored on their website.

This summary was prepared by TCR Deputy Editor Victoria Mckenzie. Readers’ comments are welcome.