Efforts to bring about criminal justice reforms on the federal level have hit upon a bit of a rough patch in recent weeks. With the focus in Washington shifting toward the general elections in November, some members of Congress have determined that maintaining a “tough on crime” approach to criminal justice is beneficial to their reelection efforts, while others have opted to back-burner the issue until their campaigns have concluded. As a result, legislation such as the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which has received an unusually high level of bipartisan support, faces an uphill battle to passage before the Congressional session concludes.
But does this mean that criminal justice reform is a lost cause for 2016? Actually, no. Far from it.
In an article in the Washington Post, Keith Humphreys makes a point largely lost in the discussion surrounding justice reforms—that over 87 percent of those currently serving sentences in American prisons are doing so in state facilities, not national. Because of this, any meaningful reduction in incarceration rates will necessarily involve reforms on the state level.
And while progress may appear to have stalled on the federal level, state reform measures are continuing to advance through their respective legislatures. Earlier this week, the governor of Alaska signed into law a bill reforming that state’s criminal justice system. Reform efforts are also underway in many states across the nation, including Georgia, Michigan, Maryland, Utah, and California.
States often serve as incubators for reform, testing out policies and practices on a smaller scale, and providing federal reform efforts with the necessary documentation and evidence to move forward.
Prison Fellowship is active in promoting reforms on both the state and federal levels. Our recently launched Faith and Justice Fellowship brings together lawmakers on both the state and national level to advance and promote dialogue on the issue of criminal justice reform, and to work toward policies that advance restorative values and principles.
To learn more about reform efforts being made in your state, be sure to visit our state issues page. And to become a part of our growing network of individuals, advocates and organizations working for change, join our advocacy network and receive updates on what is happening in criminal justice reform where you live and across the country.