Brennan Center for Justice Lawyers Debunk Myth of Criminal Justice Reform Leading to Increase in Crime, How Reforms Provide Fairer System, Public Safety

By Estrella Torres

BROOKLYN, NY – Many politicians and pundits have long used the excuse of criminal justice reform when trying to explain a rise in crimes, but there is no evidence indicating this false narrative according to an opinion piece written by Lauren-Brooke Eisen and Ames Grawert this month in Governing.

Lauren-Brooke Eisen is the senior director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law. Ames Grawert is a senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. They are former prosecutors.

The authors note policymakers in the country are pushing for, and implementing bipartisan reforms aimed at, reducing criminal justice system punitiveness and increasing public safety.

The article lists the states that have incorporated such reforms including New York, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico, and Connecticut.

In Nov., New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill passing the Clean Slate Act which would seal the records of those who have been released from prison and have been offense-free, ultimately giving them a fair “second chance” at life.

Hochul, the opinion piece states, notes how “removing the stigma enables people to support themselves and their families, pay taxes, and help New York fill a worker shortage, explaining how the benefits of this bill would allow ex-inmates to “look for a job, learn trade, without having that permanent scarlet letter on their foreheads that says, I can’t work.”

In July, the authors say, Florida signed a law that shortens probation terms with certain educational and workforce requirements. The law also allows remote probation reporting, a resource for those who lack transportation and have childcare responsibilities.

A REFORM Alliance Board member elaborates: “The COVID pandemic has taught us we can be … productive on Zoom… why can we not extend that … to the probation and parole system.”

Illinois terminated cash bail in the SAFE-T Act, removing wealth as a determining factor in going to jail or being released when waiting for trial, say Eisen and Grawert.

The article states how objectors argue cash can ensure one’s appearance in court if other “tools in the [judicial toolbox] were insufficient,” but ending cash bail has not been shown to jeopardize public safety and has little effect on defendants’ appearance in court.

New Mexico also made efforts to get rid of the criminal justice debt burden. U.S. Department of Justice notes, the Governing piece says, court fines and fees can trap people “in a cycle of poverty and punishment that can be nearly impossible to escape.”

Eisen describes how Connecticut currently limits time in solitary confinement which will help long-term mental health struggles and reduce crime.

Connecticut Gov. Lamont details how this law “makes it clear that isolated confinement should only be used in extreme circumstances. It also increases transparency and provides greater independent oversight”

These criminal justice reforms have prevailed, despite false narratives that such reforms lead to rising crime, the authors write.

Since 2020, the article explains crime has dropped in the entire nation, especially in major cities. This is proof of the growing trust of voters and policymakers in reform. 

And the goal of pivotal, common-sense criminal justice reforms for Eisen and Grawert is to “break the cycle of poverty, crime, and incarceration,” so fairness in the system coincides with public safety.

About The Author

Estrella Torres is a first-generation Latina student in her 3rd year at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is pursuing a major in Political Science and a minor in Public Affairs. Estrella has a strong passion and dedication to addressing social justice issues and political activism both in her high school and university. Her positionality as a student coming from a Mexican immigrant household has fueled her to pursue career goals involved with social justice and immigration law. She hopes to help undocumented immigrants as a lawyer and promote policies that would better their lives and provide them with fair and equal opportunities. Because of this, she is planning to go on the pre-law track and foster her skills of reading, writing, analyzing, and critical thinking. She hoped to gain more experience in journalism as regards law, local government, and public policy that would further prepare her for her goals.

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