Total Correctional Population: 320,000

Number on Parole and Probation: 131,700

Number in Local Jail or Prison: 188,400

Incarceration Rate per 100,000 residents: 60

Source: “Correctional Populations in the United States, 2016,” U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

recently enacted reforms


The First Step Act: Makes the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive; allows judges to depart below mandatory minimum sentences for some low-level, nonviolent offenses; provides certain inmates with earned credit incentives to participate in recidivism-reduction programming; requires people who are incarcerated to be located within 500 miles of their primary residence; expands opportunities for compassionate release; and bans the shackling of women who are pregnant or in postpartum recovery in federal prisons and jails.


August 2, 2019

“Right now, there are millions of Americans just like me waiting for their second chance. We need Congress to pass more criminal justice reforms.”

Writing in the New York Post, Matthew Charles called on President Trump and members of Congress to take the next step in justice reform and pass the Fair Chance Hiring Act. Sponsored by Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Doug Collins (R-GA), the bill would prohibit the federal government and federal contractors from asking about an applicant’s criminal record until after a conditional offer of employment is extended.

July 19, 2019

“It’s a long overdue change.” 

Nearly 3,100 people are scheduled to be released from federal prisons, halfway houses or home confinement this week as a result of the First Step Act’s “good time” credit changes. Justice Department officials also unveiled a new risk and needs assessment to help assign recidivism reduction programming. And in the New York Times, U.S. District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg wrote about the process of freeing Robert Clarence Potts III, who was sentenced to life in prison for drug and weapons charges. During his 20 years in prison, Potts overcame addiction, took courses in personal growth and responsible thinking, and studied software and the law. As a result of the First Step Act, Potts was able to seek a sentence reduction, and Rosenberg was able to order his release to a residential re-entry center. 

May 31, 2019

“The sentiment against this was overwhelming.” 

After a bipartisan outcry, the White House withdrew a plan to require federal job applicants to disclose their participation in diversion programs. Applicants would have been asked whether they had “been subject to judge or court specified conditions requiring satisfactory completion before a criminal charge has been or will be dismissed.” Nearly 4,000 comments were submitted to the Federal Register against the proposed change, which was first posted in late February by the Office of Personnel Management.

May 17, 2019

“There is a new bipartisan consensus on criminal justice, and it is that the old consensus was wrong.”  

The Brennan Center for Justice published Ending Mass Incarceration: Ideas from Today’s Leaders, featuring essays from presidential hopefuls Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris, NAACP’s Derrick Johnson, #cut50’s Van Jones, and Trump advisor Jared Kushner. The report is a follow-up from 2015’s Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out on Criminal Justice. “Four years later, I think it’s a very different landscape,” noted Brennan Center’s Inimai Chettiar, “..they are not only committing to ending mass incarceration but also coming forward with far bigger proposals and more specific proposals.”

April 26, 2019

“The Clean Slate Act would ensure that people who pay their debt to society and stay on the straight and narrow can earn a second shot at a better life.”

Representatives Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) introduced the Clean Slate Act this week, which would automatically seal the federal records of people convicted of drug possession or any nonviolent offense involving marijuana. The bipartisan bill has been endorsed by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and FreedomWorks. CAP’s Rebecca Vallas said the Clean Slate Act “would help people get back to work, lift families out of poverty and interrupt the cycle of economic instability and recidivism trapping countless individuals and families in the justice system today.”  Expungement also gained steam in Wisconsin: Assembly Bill 33, the “Pathways to Employment” legislation, advanced through House and Senate committees and is expected to be scheduled for floor votes in both chambers in May.

April 19, 2019

“The only way to stop this rule from going into effect is to send the administration a clear message that their proposed changes to federal hiring are regressive, unacceptable, and will hurt families and communities across America.”

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management proposed a new rule that would require federal job applicants to reveal whether they have participated in a diversion program meant to avoid a criminal conviction. “The intention of using a diversionary program is just as it sounds: to divert individuals from the justice system and provide correctional measures without incurring the impact of a criminal conviction,” noted FreedomWorks’ Sarah Anderson. “Requiring disclosure of participation in such a program runs counter to its very intention.” The public comment period for the change runs through Tuesday, April 23; you can submit a comment here.

March 22, 2019

“It is the most amazing feeling to work with the many lawyers who are filing and beginning to win compassionate release motions for prisoners who I know would never have made it to court, were it up to the BOP.”

Richard Evans became one of the first beneficiaries of the First Step Act’s reforms to the federal compassionate release program. Individuals whose release requests are denied now have the right to petition the courts for relief, and this week U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt reduced Evans’ sentence to time served and ordered three years of supervised release. Hoyt found that the Bureau of Prisons was not equipped to deal with Evans’s malignant melanoma. “Without the court process, our client would die in prison,” Evans’ lawyers said in a prepared statement. “Instead, we had an independent judge and fair-minded prosecutor, and the law worked.”

March 15, 2019

“It appears that the same bureaucrats that fought the First Step Act at every opportunity are trying to starve it to death through the budget process...”  

President Trump’s 2020 budget request contained $14 million for the development of pilot programs for people who are incarcerated, well short of the $75 million annual expenditure described in the First Step Act. The White House did not indicate how the administration planned to implement the law’s expansion of programs for education, career and technical training, substance abuse treatment or halfway houses. While Congress is responsible for allocating funding, and both houses have generally ignored presidential budget requests, advocates were concerned that the proposal fell short of a full-throated implementation of the law.

March 15, 2019

“The Fair Chance Act allows qualified people with criminal records to get their foot in the door and be judged by their merit, not a past conviction.”

At a joint hearing of House Oversight and Reform subcommittees this week, lawmakers heard from the sponsors of H.R. 1076, The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act. The bill would prohibit agencies and their contractors from asking about an applicant’s criminal record until a conditional offer of employment has been extended. Thirty-three states and nearly 150 cities and counties have implemented some version of ban-the-box policies. House sponsors Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Doug Collins (R-GA) were joined at the hearing by Senate sponsors Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Johnson (R-WI), as well as the Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris and Teresa Hodge, Co-Founder and CEO of R3 Score Technologies.

March 1, 2019

“With the efforts of the criminal justice reform community pushing from all sides of the political aisle, Congress finally broke the logjam and passed meaningful reform.”

In an essay for the Yale Law Journal, Georgetown University Law Center Professor Shon Hopwood described the effort to pass the First Step Act, crediting a wide variety of groups on the right and left, including the NAACP, FAMM, Prison Fellowship, #cut50, Right on Crime, FreedomWorks and the American Conservative Union. Hopwood also lays out a set of principles for evaluating future reforms, suggesting advocates evaluate whether the bill would increase fairness and public safety, whether it is supported by those who would be directly affected, and whether there is a realistic chance of better alternatives in the near future, among other factors.

February 15, 2019

“For good reason, the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history: Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties.”

 In a unanimous ruling announced Wednesday, the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of excessive fines applies to state governments. The ruling came in the case of Tyson Timbs, whose $42,000 Land Rover was seized by the state Indiana in connection to a crime that carried a maximum fine of $10,000. While the court ruled that the excessive fines clause was incorporated to local and state governments, the ruling was narrow and did not take a position on the seizure of Timbs’ vehicle, or address concerns about the use of forfeited funds by law enforcement agencies.

January 4, 2019

“Justice prevailed here. It gives you hope that it can happen again." 

Matthew Charles, whose case was used to advocate for the First Step Act, became one of the law’s first beneficiaries when a judge ruled Thursday that he was entitled to immediate release. Charles, who was serving a 35-year sentence, was previously released from prison in 2015 but ordered back after federal prosecutors argued he was considered a habitual offender. Former Federal Judge Kevin Sharp approved Charles’ release in 2015 and mentioned the case to President Trump in a meeting discussing inequality in the justice system. He said this case was not unique: “There are thousands of them out there. We can’t quit.”

December 21, 2018

“We’re giving a first step to many who have not had that in the past. The first step will get us to many others.”

The First Step Act was signed into law this week. Years in the making, this bill is the most comprehensive criminal justice reform ever passed by both chambers of the U.S. Congress. The First Step Act received overwhelming support in both houses of congress, passing the Senate by a vote of 87-12 and the House by a vote of 358-36. This landmark legislation was championed by the bipartisan partnerships of Congressmen Doug Collins (R-GA) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), and received support from groups across the political spectrum.

December 14, 2018

“At the request of the president and following improvements to the legislation that has been secured by several members, the Senate will take up the revised Criminal Justice Bill this month.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed for cloture on The First Step ActThursday, with a vote expected early next week. The legislation is supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition, including law enforcement and civil rights groups, and is expected to receive at least 70 votes in the Senate. President Trump also endorsed the bill, urging Leader McConnell to allow a vote in the Senate. Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris told the Louisville Courier-Journal obstacles remained, including amendments from opponents in the Senate, “but I’d put your money on our side.”  

December 7, 2018

“The reality is states have been doing this. It has been successful. It has been a bipartisan issue…this is the one issue that is bringing people together right now.”

Justice Action Network partnered with the Washington Post and the University of Virginia on Criminal Justice Reform: The Road Ahead, bringing together elected officials and advocates from around the country. Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Grassley discussed the outlook for The First Step Act and committed to working across party lines to move forward. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Representative Sheryl Delozier and Corrections Secretary John Wetzel discussed the commonwealth’s recent justice reforms, including this year’s Clean Slate bill. JAN’s Holly Harris talked with FreedomWorks’ Jason Pye and #cut50’s Jessica Jackson about justice reform’s bipartisan coalitions.  Additional panels featured Senator Mike Lee, Leadership Conference’s Vanita Gupta, FAMM’s Kevin Ring, and Brittany Barnett and Sharanda Jones of the Buried Alive project.

November 16, 2018

“The Second Chance Act helps break the cycle of incarceration through drug treatment and job training programs and makes our community safer, saves taxpayer dollars, and most importantly, helps former inmates live up to their God-given potential.” 
The Council of State Governments Justice Center marked the 10th anniversary of the passage of the Second Chance Act with a new report, Reentry Matters: Strategies and Successes of Second Chance Act Grantees. Since 2009, Second Chance programs aimed at reducing recidivism have impacted more than 164,000 people, through 900 grants across 49 states. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Second Chance Reauthorization Act this week. 

November 9, 2018

“Those who oppose adding any sentencing reform to the First Step Act are stuck in the 1980s and are completely ignoring criminal justice reform successes at the state level.”

In The Hill, FreedomWorks’ Jason Pye urged members of congress to include sentencing reforms in the Senate version of the FIRST STEP Act, expected to be introduced next week. Pye noted that the proposed reforms were modest in scope, and aimed at applying common sense to federal sentencing laws. These “smart on crime” reforms coordinate with President Trump’s desire to be tough on crime, Pye argued, as they ensure “the right crimes are addressed with the right penalties.”

October 26, 2018

“These changes, particularly in the absence of a justification, threaten to make our communities less safe while increasing BOP operating costs over time.”

For decades, halfway houses have been useful in helping prisoners safely transition back to their communities before release. Recently, the Justice Department has severely curtailed the use of halfway houses and home confinement, and no longer requires halfway houses to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment. In 2015, more than 10,000 people were in federal halfway houses, and 4,600 were in home confinement. Now only 7,670 are in halfway houses, and 1,822 are in home confinement. Officials at the Bureau of Prisons claimed the “fiscal environment” had led the bureau to look for ways to “most effectively use [their] resources.” The federal government spends more than $36,000 per year to imprison a person, while placement in a halfway house costs just over $32,000 and monitoring a person on home confinement costs only $4,392.

October 12, 2018

“What we’ll do after the election is take a whip count and if there are more than 60 senators who want to go forward on that bill, we’ll find time to address it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell committed this week to taking a whip count on the FIRST STEP Act during the lame duck session, saying he would schedule a vote if there is sufficient support. President Trump reaffirmed his support for criminal justice reform, and said Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not represent the administration on criminal justice reform. “I make the decision,” Trump told Fox and Friends, “he doesn’t.”

September 21, 2018

“BOP’s approach to managing female inmates has not been strategic, resulting in weaknesses in its ability to meet their specific needs.” 

new report from the Department of Justice concluded that staffing shortages in the Federal Bureau of Prisons were restricting access to care and services for female inmates. The Inspector General’s report makes ten recommendations to improve BOP performance, including additional training, expanded trauma treatment programs, better communication about pregnancy programs, and clearer guidelines on the distribution of feminine hygiene products. Acting BOP Director Hugh Hurwitz agreed with the recommendations and pledged to improve staffing and training.

September 14, 2018

“The idea that a pregnant woman is going to escape anywhere when she can barely walk is ludicrous. Shackling women on the wrists, waist and legs is a dangerous practice and a cruel practice.”

Representatives Karen Bass (D-CA) and Mia Love (R-UT) introduced The Protecting the Health and Wellness of Babies and Pregnant Women in Custody Act, which is cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 57 congresswomen. The bill would create a national standard of care for women who are incarcerated during pregnancy, labor, delivery and the post-partum period. Representatives Love and Bass announced their intention to file the bill at the Coalition for Public Safety’s Women Unshackled: The Next Step, earlier this year. In The Hill, the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Kaitlin Owens and R Street’s Emily Mooney argued for the passage of the bill and similar reforms at the state level.

August 31, 2018

“We want to allow people a clean slate and to move forward with their lives after they’ve done what they were supposed to do.”

Representatives Rod Blum (R-IA) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) introduced the “Clean Slate Act,” which would allow people convicted of low-level drug offenses to have their records automatically sealed, and allow people convicted of other nonviolent offenses to petition to have their records sealed. The bill is modeled after Pennsylvania’s landmark Clean Slate legislation, passed earlier this year, and backed by the Center for American Progress and FreedomWorks.

August 31, 2018

“The results of the poll really show this is not a red state issue or a blue state issue, this is a real issue that Americans want to see advanced and they want to see politicians in Washington make progress.”

New polling from the Justice Action Network showed widespread support among Kentuckians for the prison reforms in the FIRST STEP Act and the proposed sentencing reforms that may be added. On a call unveiling the poll results, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner said the bill will “keep our communities safer, which is a big priority of the president.” Senator Rand Paul pushed for a vote on the bill, predicting that more than 2/3 of the Senate would support the prison and sentencing reforms. 74% of those polled approved of a safety valve to allow judges to divert from mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, and 70% believed Senator McConnell should allow the prison and sentencing reform bill to get a vote in the Senate.

August 17, 2018

“These governors are invading the federal reform effort, seeking to finally connect Beltway leaders to what is happening in their own backyards.”

Senators are finalizing a federal prison and sentencing reform bill, likely to be introduced in the coming weeks. The reforms are modeled on those implemented at the state level, which have safely cut incarceration rates, improved reentry programs, and lowered crime and recidivism. In USA Today, Governors Ralph Northam (D-VA), Mary Fallin (R-OK), John Bel Edwards, (D-LA) and Matt Bevin (R-KY) encouraged Congress to follow their lead, and pass reforms that promote rehabilitation and workforce participation.

August 10, 2018

“We’ve seen firsthand how this changes lives, how it gives people second chances, how it puts communities back together, and keeps families together.”

As part of a renewed push for federal justice reform, President Trump met with a bipartisan group of governors this week to talk about state-level successes. In remarks before their closed-door session, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal noted that the recidivism rate for people in prison who learned a blue-collar job skill dropped by 24%, and Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant credited his state’s reforms for saving $40 million since 2014. Following the meeting, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards invited the President to tour the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and see vocational, victim-reconciliation and faith-based programs in action.

July 13, 2018

“If they get a bill passed, it goes to the White House and we are going to have people coming home.”

Families of incarcerated people from across the country spoke at a rally hosted by Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Justice Action Network, FreedomWorks, #cut50, American Conservative Union Foundation, Prison Fellowship and the Can-Do Foundation. The rally also featured speeches from the bipartisan sponsors of the First Step Act.  Cassie Monaco, who came from Montana to attend the rally and Wednesday’s lobby day, was optimistic about the First Step Act’s chances, telling the Big Fork Eagle “if we can get a vote, it’ll pass.”

July 13, 2018

“The 851 enhancements were applied inconsistently, with wide geographic variations in the filing, withdrawal, and ultimate application…”

A new report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission shows that drug trafficking enhancements are inconsistently applied across geographic and demographic lines. For example, in five districts, an 851 enhancement was sought against more than 50 percent of eligible drug trafficking offenders, while in 19 districts, the enhancement was not sought against any of the eligible offenders. The commission reiterated its 2011 recommendations that mandatory minimums be applied consistently, be narrowly tailored and not be excessively severe.

June 29, 2018

 “Our prison system and our jail system are just not equipped to deal with all the issues women are facing right now.”

Lawmakers, advocates, judges, law enforcement, and formerly incarcerated women gathered in Austin on Wednesday for “Women Unshackled: The Next Step,” hosted by CPS and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. The forum, which was simulcast on Facebook and livestreamed into the Travis County Correctional Complex, focused on the unique challenges women face in our justice system, and potential reforms to better address their needs. As part of the event, Congresswomen Karen Bass (D-CA) and Mia Love (R-UT), announced upcoming federal dignity legislation. If you missed it, you can still watch the conference here:

June 22, 2018

“...If the audits are allowed to fail, the Prison Rape Elimination Act will fail, and the shameful scourge of prison rape will continue.”

Just Detention International’s Lovisa Stannow drew attention to the First Step Act’s strengthening of protections under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.  The First Step Act would establish stronger guidelines for conducting audits, harsher penalties for auditors who do not comply with the guidelines, and more transparency in the audit process. The bill, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House last month, awaits action in the Senate.

June 15, 2018

“This common-sense piece of legislation seeks to accomplish what we all want: safer communities.”

In the Houston Chronicle, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton urged legislators to follow Texas’ lead in criminal justice reform and pass the FIRST STEP Act.  And in Foreign Affairs, our own Holly Harris argues that prison reform legislation could be a political winner for both parties.

June 8, 2018

“I’m feeling no handcuffs on me. I’m free to hug my family.”
Alice Johnson’s sentence was commuted by President Donald Trump on Wednesday, and she was released from prison the same day. Johnson had served 22 years of a life sentence without parole for federal drug and money laundering charges. Her cause was championed by groups including #cut50 and CAN-DO, and by Kim Kardashian, who met with the President last week to discuss the case.

June 8, 2018

“The people who served time in prison and work with families of the incarcerated every day understand that we should not wait to fix anything until we can fix everything.”
Forty bipartisan and formerly incarcerated advocates sent a letter to Senate leaders in support of the First Step Act, arguing that the bill would “provide some long overdue relief and hope to more than 180,000 people in federal prison and millions of their family members and loved ones on the outside.” Signatories included Georgetown University Law Professor Shon Hopwood, #cut50’s Topeka Sam, Families Against Mandatory Minimums’ Kevin Ring, and American Conservative Union’s Pat Nolan.

June 1, 2018

“We have done something today that was very important, because we righted a wrong.”

Donald Trump issued a posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson, whose conviction under the Mann Act was widely believed to be racially motivated. Days later, he pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, convicted of campaign finance violations in 2014. President Trump also met with Kim Kardashian, who advocated for a pardon of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman who received a life sentence without parole for first-time, nonviolent drug offenses.

June 1, 2018

“Despite these tremendous strides, data and experience indicates that juvenile justice systems are still not operating as effectively as possible.”

The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University interviewed nearly 50 researchers, experts and leaders in the juvenile justice system to find ways to improve public safety and youth outcomes. Their new publication presents six strategies to advance those goals, including decriminalizing status offenses, eliminating technical violations, and using analytics to hold agencies, courts, and service providers accountable for improved outcomes.

May 25, 2018

“This bill will transform lives by providing access to the mental health counseling, education, vocational services and substance abuse treatment needed to help incarcerated individuals get back on their feet and become productive members of society.”

The FIRST STEP Act passed in the U.S. House with overwhelming bipartisan support this week; 99% of Republicans and 70% of Democrats voted in favor. The bill includes an increase in recidivism reduction program funding, expanded access to compassionate release programs, an increase in good time credits, broad new requirements for data collection, and a ban on shackling pregnant women.

May 25, 2018

“…The collection of revenue, and not the pursuit of justice or protecting the public, has become the driving force for civil and criminal enforcement.”

A lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice alleges that Doraville, Georgia has turned the local justice system into a cash machine for the city’s budget. Fines, fees, and forfeitures accounted for 19 to 30 percent of Doraville’s budget over the past five years, and residents face steep fines for chipped paint, cracked concrete, and improperly stacked firewood. The practice is not limited to Georgia—fines and fees provided 30.4% of the budget in Saint Ann, Missouri, 25.6% in North Hills, New York, and 14.5% in Sunset, Utah.

May 18, 2018

“In 2017, the U.S. prison population dropped below 1.5 million people for the first time since 2004.”

A new report from the Vera Institute showed that the U.S. prison population fell by 19,400 in 2017, continuing an eight-year trend of similar declines. Between 2016 and 2017, Maryland and Louisiana saw the largest single year decreases in their prison populations in a decade. Both states passed Justice Reinvestment Initiatives that reduced sentences and reformed parole and probation policies.  Twenty states, including Tennessee, Utah and Kentucky saw increases in their prison population over the same time period.

May 18, 2018

“CEA finds evidence that certain individual programs can reduce crime as well as reduce spending by lowering long-run incarceration costs.”

The Council of Economic Advisers found that every $1 spent on mental health saved an estimated $1.47, and every $1 spent on substance abuse saved an estimated $5.27. Their analysis combined the costs of incarceration with the societal costs of crime, including pain and suffering, reduced quality of life, and lost economic opportunity. The authors were unable to properly evaluate the efficacy of prison education programs, but estimated that they would need to produce only a 2% reduction in recidivism to be cost-effective.

May 11, 2018

“I’m looking at this from a practical purpose of looking at families and saying let’s help them now.”

The House Judiciary Committee passed the First Step Act by a vote of 25-5, with support from both Republicans and Democrats. The bill includes an increase in earned time credits, expanded eligibility for compassionate release, increased spending on job training and education programs, and a ban on the use of physical restraints on women during pregnancy, delivery and the postpartum period.

May 11, 2018

“[B]ut the issue of bail bond reform has drawn support from a wide range of groups and organizations...”

Starting in July, Google will no longer allow bail bond companies to advertise on its platforms. Google said the decision was based on their commitment to protect users from deceptive and harmful products, and that they came to the decision after consultation with groups including the Essie Justice Group, Koch Industries, and Color of Change. Facebook quickly followed with a statement that the platform would also stop taking ads from the bail bond industry.

May 11, 2018

“She’s not been charged with a crime…She’s been deprived of that money. She’s been unable to open her clinic. She’s been living a nightmare.”

Customs and Border Protection Agents seized more than $40,000 in cash from a registered nurse who planned to open a medical clinic in Nigeria, and have refused to return the money unless she gives up her right to sue the federal government. The U.S. Attorney’s office did not even bring a civil asset forfeiture case against her, and she has not been charged with any crime. Her lawsuit, filed with the assistance of the Institute for Justice, also seeks information about how often CBP requires individuals to sign hold-harmless agreements.

May 4, 2018

“When you restrict reading materials, you’re contributing to lower literacy rates and it limits inmates’ connections with the community.”

Federal prison officials reversed a policy that had made it harder and more expensive for prisoners to receive books. The policy, which required inmates to order books only through a prison-approved vendor, was in place in Virginia and California, and set to start in Florida this month. Officials claimed the restriction was necessary to prevent attempts to smuggle in drugs and other contraband, but also banned orders from online retailers and publishers.

April 27, 2018

“…Americans actually want fewer prisons—and now favor policies and politicians that put fewer people in them.”

New polling from the Vera Institute shows that support for criminal justice reform breaks through the urban-rural divide, with respondents in rural communities, small cities and major metro ranking prison and jail construction last in a list of public spending priorities and indicating support for prioritizing addiction treatment options over incarceration.  The poll also found considerable skepticism about the fairness of the justice system across geographic divides, with 49% agreeing with the statement “too many people are in jail for the wrong reasons,” and 55% agreeing that “our justice system discriminates against poor people.” And in The Hill, Right on Crime’s Marc Levin wrote about the need for rural communities to be included in criminal justice reform.

April 20, 2018

“The Excessive Fines Clause is ripe for consideration in the age of mass incarceration.”

A civil asset forfeiture case from Indiana may give the Supreme Court the opportunity to apply the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines and fees to the states. The Eighth Amendment is one of only two portions of the Bill of Rights that has not been applied to the states. The other, the Third Amendment, bans the quartering of troops in private homes. While the Court has yet to decide whether to take up the Indiana case, a concurrence from Justice Neil Gorsuch included an offhand reference to “extravagant” civil punishments, including "forfeiture provisions that allow homes to be taken."

April 13, 2018

“Growth in occupational licensing is associated with less economic mobility…and greater income inequality.”

A new study from the Archbridge Institute found that growth in the number of occupations requiring a license is associated with a 1.7% to 6.7% decline in economic mobility, and increased county level Gini coefficients. These licensing requirements, which frequently exclude people with criminal records, serve as barriers to successful reentry even when the occupation is unrelated to any prior criminal activity. Between 1993 and 2012, states added an average of 31 license requirements low-income professions, with Louisiana adding the most (59) and Oklahoma and Kentucky adding the least (15).

April 13, 2018

“Even though we broke the law, rape, intimidation and sexual harassment were not part of our sentence.”

Kim Brown, of the Women & Justice Project, wrote about her experience in prison and the need for the "Me Too" movement to address the needs of women in prison. “Incarcerated women cannot escape their abusers,” she wrote, “and they place themselves at risk of retaliation if they speak up.”

April 13, 2018

“The one constant in this work is that it cannot be successful without bipartisan support.”

In The Hill, Ed Chung of the Center for American Progress and Jason Pye of FreedomWorks renewed the call for bipartisan comprehensive criminal justice reform. Representatives Cedric Richmond (D-LA) and Mark Walker (R-SC) joined the call, and pushed for an expanded conversation on criminal justice that focuses on restoration and rehabilitation.

April 6, 2018

“We encourage expanded opportunities for those who have worked to overcome bad decisions earlier in life and emphasize our belief in second chance for those who are willing to work hard to turn their lives around.”

President Trump designated April 2018 “Second Chance Month,” and urged federal, state and local corrections systems to implement evidence-based programs that focus on job training, mentoring, mental health treatment, and addiction treatment. Similar proclamations have been introduced in the Senate by Republican Rob Portman and in the house by Democrat Tony Cardenas, and April 2018 has been declared Second Chance Month in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama, Michigan, Texas, Minnesota, the District of Columbia, and the city of Minneapolis.

April 6, 2018

“They keep a close eye on their clients, but in many places, no one is keeping a close eye on them.”

In the New York Times, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Shaila Dewan examined the extraordinary powers and lax regulation of the $2 billion bail bond industry. They found complaints of kidnapping, extortion, forged property liens, theft and embezzlement that rarely resulted in meaningful punishment for the bail bond agents. This remarkable piece includes particularly shocking stories of people, families, and their liberty impacted by this industry, and don’t miss what happened to Christopher Franklin in North Carolina.

March 30, 2018

Council of State Governments' 50-State Data on Public Safety Workbooks Available

Following November’s 50-State Summit on Public Safety, the Council of State Governments released their 50-State Data on Public Safety workbooks, which provide a look at the criminal justice landscape across the country and reveal a wide range of strengths and challenges from state to state. The workbooks include national and state-specific data on crime, arrests, recidivism, supervision practices, and correctional populations.

March 23, 2018

“The cycle of crime and punishment doesn’t create better citizens and safer communities. It creates better criminals.”

In The Hill, Young Republican National Federation Chairman Jason Emert and CPS' Jenna Moll argued that corrections systems need to be more focused on reducing recidivism, including the federal government. In recent years, Arizona and Louisiana have taken steps to provide education, mentoring, substance abuse treatment, vocational training to people who are incarcerated, and Tennessee has reduced barriers to employment for those who have been released. These states have undertaken these reforms within a conservative framework: achieving lower crime rates while spending fewer tax dollars on broken approaches to criminal justice.

March 23, 2018

“If you break the law and illegally peddle these deadly poisons, we will find you, we will arrest you, and we will hold you accountable.”

President Trump announced a new strategy for fighting the opioid crisis, including increased education and treatment funding, longer sentences for drug offenses, and pursuing the death penalty in drug trafficking cases. The Pew Charitable Trusts recently found that increased imprisonment had no statistically significant relationship with self-reported drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests.

March 16, 2018

“Boys born into the bottom 10 percent of the income distribution were about 20 times as likely to end up incarcerated as boys born into the top 10 percent."

A study from the Brookings Institution found a strong correlation between childhood family income and adult incarceration. Family structure was a strong driver—children from single-parent families were twice as likely to end up incarcerated as the children of married parents, regardless of family income. The researchers also looked at prisoners’ places of birth, and found that they were more likely to have grown up in “socially isolated and segregated neighborhoods” and in predominantly African American or American Indian neighborhoods.

March 16, 2018

“Looking at the big picture requires us to ask if it really makes sense to lock up 2.3 million people on any given day.”

The Prison Policy Initiative pieced together data from nearly 7000 correctional facilities across the country and in U.S. territories to build a full picture of our current correctional system. They found that the United States has more people detained pre-trial than most countries have in their prisons and jails combined, and that 1 in 5 incarcerated people is locked up for a drug offense.

March 16, 2018

“America is home to only about 5% of the world’s female population, but we house in our prisons about 30% of all the women incarcerated in the world.”

On Sunday, #cut50’s Van Jones talked with Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay about the Dignity Campaign for incarcerated women. Jones and Topeka Sam also wrote about the need to include women in the conversation about criminal justice reform and the progress being made on dignity-related bills in Kentucky, Arizona, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland and Connecticut.

March 9, 2018

“We have tens of thousands of children who are simply outside our school accountability mechanisms. They simply disappear.”
Education Week looked into juvenile justice facility education programs and found that only 28% of juvenile justice schools offered Algebra 2, and fewer than half offer all the core courses students need to graduate. Students received an average of 26 hours of instruction, but in some schools children were receiving only an hour or two per week.  

March 9, 2018

“I begged them to please get him home. And while the blood was still warm in his body, instead of sending him home in a body bag.”
In the New York Times, Christie Thompson examined the federal Bureau of Prison’s Compassionate Release program and found that only 6% of applicants have been approved for release in the past four years. Since 2013, 266 rejected applicants have died in custody, and roughly half of those who died after applying were convicted of nonviolent fraud or drug crimes. The Granting Release and Compassion Effectively (GRACE) Act, introduced last week by Senators Brian Schatz, Mike Lee and Patrick Leahy, would create clear guidelines for release and allow prisoners to petition the courts if their request is delayed or denied.

March 2, 2018

“When we have more prison, we have less crime. And when we have less prison, we have more crime.”

President Trump announced four nominees for the U.S. Sentencing Commission this week, including Georgetown University Law Professor William Otis, a prominent defender of debunked sentencing practices and critic of bipartisan criminal justice reform. Otis also previously called for the Sentencing Commission to be disbanded. Two of the other nominees, Judge William Pryor and Judge Henry Hudson, are allies of Attorney General Sessions.  The fourth nominee, Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, was appointed to the U.S. Circuit Court by President Obama, and began his career as a law clerk at the ACLU National Prison Project.

February 23, 2018

“Courts are willing to routinely violate people’s due process rights to do debt collectors’ dirty work.”

The ACLU released a report this week on the criminalization of debt. In 26 states, the ACLU examined more than 1,000 cases in which civil court judges issued arrest warrants for debtors. They found debts as low as $28, ranging from student loans and medical costs to gym fees and pay-day loans, and arrest warrants issued without evaluating whether the person has the ability or obligation to pay.

February 16, 2018

“This bill strikes the right balance of improving public safety and ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system.”

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a bipartisan vote of 16-5, despite opposition from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley along with Senators Dick Durbin and Mike Lee crafted a carefully balanced bill, which includes individualized sentencing for certain nonviolent drug offenders, new federal reentry programs, and enhanced sentencing for interstate domestic violence offenses resulting in death and fentanyl-related drug offenses.

February 16, 2018

“It is mind-boggling that this issue is controversial in Washington.”

Polling by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of the Justice Action Network was highlighted in an op-ed in The Hill by our own Holly Harris in advance of this week’s vote on SRCA. It showed a dramatic shift in public opinion from the tough-on-crime policies of the 1980s and 1990s, including 87% of voters supporting judicial discretion during sentencing, and 85% supporting a focus on rehabilitation as the primary goal of the justice system.

February 2, 2018

"This year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.”

In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Trump called for prison reform—the latest sign that there is bipartisan consensus around the issue. The speech came on the heels of indications that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on board with prison reform, and optimism from GOP lawmakers about the path to passage. 

January 26, 2018

"I can’t think of a more positive issue to run on that has more bipartisan support…”

A new poll from Public Opinion Strategies showed overwhelming, bipartisan support for criminal justice reform, including alternatives to incarceration, fair chance hiring, expungements, bail reform, sentencing safety valves, and ending the shackling of pregnant women. In addition, 85% of respondents believe that the main goal of incarceration should be rehabilitation. Support for reforms was particularly strong among women, and pollster Robert Blizzard concluded that legislators “can be helped at the ballot box in November by voting to pass legislation incorporating these changes to the criminal justice system.”

January 19, 2018

“Imprisonment in many states and the nation as a whole has long since passed the point of diminishing returns.”

Analysis from the Pew Charitable Trusts showed that, between 2008 and 2016, 35 states cut their crime and imprisonment rates simultaneously;  21 of those states showed double-digit declines in both rates. In the twelve states where imprisonment rates grew, crime rates fell more slowly, on average, than in states with the largest declines in imprisonment. 

January 5, 2018

"[T]he federal government has better things to focus on."

The Justice Department rescinded prior guidance discouraging enforcement of federal marijuana laws in jurisdictions where it is legal, directing prosecutors to use their own discretion. The move creates uncertainty in D.C. and the eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana use. Attorney General Sessions' memo was met with bipartisan condemnation, and Colorado Senator Cory Gardner said he was "prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees" until the issue was resolved.  

November 21, 2017

“Same crimes, different times.” 

The United States Sentencing Commission released a report on sentencing disparities, showing sharp racial and gender divisions. Even after controlling for a variety of factors, black men receive 20 percent longer prison sentences, on average, according to the USSC.