A look at the important state-level criminal justice reforms of 2020
Tuesday, January 28, 2020
2020 has started with a wave of criminal justice reform laws coming into effect across the country. New state laws have come in the wake of President Trump signing the bipartisan First Step Act into law in December 2018. Some states even passed dozens of measures, all of which took effect this month.
In particular, the last year was especially eventful for New York as far as criminal justice reform is concerned. The state’s Democratic majority wasted no time in pushing significant reforms at the state level. These included bail and discovery reforms that took effect on Jan. 1.
Criminal justice advocates pushed for these reforms since cash bail allowed some to skip detention easily in the past. Other significant measures did not pass yet, but state officials are hopeful that they will be considered and passed in 2020’s legislative session in Albany.
Some of these measures include:
Elder parole: This intends to help incarcerated people who are 55 and older be eligible for parole immediately if they have served at least 15 years in prison.
Timely parole: The fair and timely parole bill focuses on an incarcerated person’s rehabilitation, risk, or contribution to society and remorse while in custody instead of the original crime.
Voting rights for prisoners and parolees: This bill would restore the voting rights of New York state prisoners and those on parole so they can participate in elections.
H.A.L.T. solitary confinement: This bill would restrict and set strict caps for the duration of solitary confinement. Currently, there is no legal limit concerning duration, age, gender, or disabilities.
Reform for survivors of trafficking: This bill would let survivors of human trafficking be eligible for relief and not just from forced prostitution charges. They can now clear their criminal records of any offense they were forced to commit by traffickers.
California, on the other hand, went a step further with its reforms for ex-convicts. Now people released from prisons will have the right to serve on juries, except sex offenders and parolees. The state, dominated by the Democratic Party, has tweaked its immigration laws and also ended mandatory minimum sentences for some drug charges. Other laws that went into effect this month include:
Gig economy: The state is mandating that companies treat their contractors more like employees. Certain exemptions will entitle them to minimum wage and other benefits.
Online privacy: This data privacy law will enforce greater privacy protections for consumers and transparency from companies who are legally bound to inform consumers about the data they are collecting and its use.
Child sexual assault statute of limitations: This new law gives victims of childhood sexual abuse until age 40 to sue, extending the time by 14 years. Adults suffering from suffered psychological or other damages from a sexual assault will have five years to sue, and victims who have missed earlier deadlines will get a three-year extension.
Criminal justice reform in the state of New Mexico includes the Criminal Records Expungement Act, which will allow convicted felons to appeal and get their criminal records expunged.
The much-debated Act would cover serious crimes like robbery, grand theft auto, and assault but not DWI, crimes committed against children, sex offenses, death-related crimes. Felons will, however, not be able to purchase firearms. The law is expected to be a big help for victims of identity theft and people who were never convicted of a crime.
Criminal justice reform will remain a top priority for lawmakers. It remains to be seen how much change will materialize. With a prison population of over 2 million, the U.S. incarcerates more people per capita than any other nation. Comprehensive reform on the federal and state levels may help in reducing the size and cost of our prison populations.
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