Criminal Justice Reform

The ACS State Attorneys General Project develops, collects, and disseminates legal resources highlighting and examining the authority and actions of state attorneys general in key policy areas. This page collects resources related to criminal justice reform.

Bail Reform

California Department of Justice, Press Release, Attorney General Becerra Files Amicus Brief in California Supreme Court opposing Unaffordable Money Bail, (Oct. 9, 2018)

In the brief, Attorney General Becerra argues that principles of due process and equal protection require consideration of a criminal defendant’s ability to pay in setting the amount of any monetary bail. The brief also argues that the California Constitution permits the Legislature to protect victims and the public through alternatives to money bail, such as programs to detain dangerous defendants pending trial.

See also California Department of Justice, Press Release, Attorney General Becerra Urges State Supreme Court to Eliminate Unaffordable Bail, (Aug. 19 2020)

See Maria Dinzeo, Historic California Supreme Court Bail Ruling Leaves Pretrial Detention Question Unanswered, Courthouse News (March 26, 2021).

Colorado Attorney General, Press Release, Attorney General Weiser testifies in support of bail reform legislation, (Feb. 24, 2020)

The Attorney General for Colorado appeared before the Colorado State Senate Committee on the Judiciary to testify in support of Senate Bill 20-161, a bill to reform cash bail in the state.

The Delaware Department of Justice, Attorney General Kathy Jennings, Legislative Priorities for 2021

See also Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings, Memo to Deputy Attorneys General and Staff Re: Fairness and Equality in the Criminal Justice System: Internal Policies (February 15, 2019)

Maryland Attorney General’s Bail System Reform FAQ

This Q&A about bail system reform is hosted on the Maryland OAG website. It includes a letter from Attorney General Brian Frosh to the Maryland Standing Committee of Rules of Practice and Procedure, requesting changes to Maryland Rule 4-216 on pretrial release.

See, Scott Dance, Since bail reform, Maryland holding fewer people who can't afford bond, Assembly panel told, The Baltimore Sun (January 16, 2018). “…about one-fifth of defendants are being held because they can’t or don’t pay bail, down from 40 percent in the months before the reforms were enacted, Judge John P. Morrissey, chief judge of the District Court of Maryland, said Tuesday. About 53 percent of those who appear before a bail commissioner are released from custody, up from 44 percent before the reforms…”

New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino, Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2016-6 v2.0: Modification of Directive Establishing Interim Policies, Practices, and Procedures to Implement Criminal Justice Reform Pursuant to P.L. 2014, c. 31, (May 24, 2017).

Directive that provides detailed guidance to prosecutors and police in implementing the historic bail reform law and related amendment to the New Jersey Constitution, which eliminated monetary bail in many cases.

See Christopher Porrino and Elie Honig, Ex-N.J. attorney general: We must fix the American bail system. N.J. is the model, NJ.com (Jul. 16, 2018; updated Jan. 30, 2019)

See Matt Fair, 3rd Circ. Backs NJ's Nonmonetary Bail Reform, Law360 (Jul. 9, 2018)

See also New Jersey Courts Criminal Justice Reform Information Center

The website provides data and information on New Jersey’s pretrial risk assessment system.

Commonwealth of Virginia, Office of the Attorney General Press Release, Attorney General Herring Calls for Reforms to Virginia’s Cash Bail System, (Oct. 22, 2018).

In a letter and legal memo to the Virginia State Crime Commission, Attorney General Mark R. Herring called for reforms to Virginia’s cash bail system, citing potential policy and constitutional concerns and the availability of alternatives that can keep communities safe and ensure defendants show up for court without simply penalizing and jailing low-income Virginians because of the inability to come up with hundreds or thousands of dollars to post bail.

Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, Press Release, More Than 80 Current and Former Prosecutors and Law Enforcement Leaders Call for Bail Reform in Legal Filing, Georgetown University Law Center (Jan. 30, 2019)

Three state attorneys general joined amici curiae current and former law enforcement officials in a Fifth Circuit brief arguing that the use of money bail to detain poor defendants before trial is unconstitutional and harms public safety.

Victoria Prieskop, Tenth Circuit Tosses New Mexico Bail Reform Challenge, Courthouse News (Feb. 25, 2019)

Michael Rempel and Krystal Rodriguez, Bail Reform Revisited: The Impact of New York’s Amended Law, The Center for Court Innovation (May 2020)

Criminal Justice Policy Program, Harvard Law School, Bail Reform: A Guide for State and Local Policymakers (February 2019)

The report is organized around five principles for pretrial reform, including limiting pretrial detention, eliminating money bail, cautiously using risk assessment tools, optimizing pretrial services, and involving stakeholders at every stage of reform.

National Task Force on Fines, Fees, and Bail Practices, Bail Reform: A Practical Guide Based on Research and Experience (March 2019)

The guide provides detailed information on state bail and pretrial reform efforts in six states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and Texas.

National Conference of State Legislatures, Trends in Pretrial Release: State Legislation (last updated April 1, 2018)

“Since 2012, every state legislature has addressed pretrial policy, resulting in close to 700 new enactments. The report "Trends in Pretrial Release: State Legislation" highlights legislative action between 2012 and 2014. Enactments from this time period have individualized the pretrial process by focusing on specific defendants or offense categories.”

Pretrial Justice Institute, Key Features of Holistic Pretrial Justice Statutes and Court Rules (2016)

This report explores aspects of statutes and rules that may help or hinder the goals of PJI’s 3DaysCount campaign to facilitate pretrial reform at the state level.

Data Collection

California Department of Justice, Open Justice

According to the site, this “transparency initiative led by the California Department of Justice [. . .] publishes criminal justice data so we can understand how we are doing, hold ourselves accountable, and improve public policy to make California safer.” The site includes stop data reported by law enforcement agencies under the Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015 (RIPA), and data about use of force incidents. California’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center (CJSC) resides within the Attorney General’s office, and “has the duty to collect, analyze, and report statistical data, which provide valid measures of crime and the criminal justice process to government and the citizens of California.”

New Jersey Office of the Attorney General Department of Law & Public Safety, AG Grewal Launches “Beta Version” of Statewide Use of Force Dashboard (April 6, 2021)

The new beta version of the dashboard allows members of the public, researchers, and reporters to view data that has been collected on use of force by New Jersey’s 38,000 law enforcement officers since statewide electronic collection began in October 2020.

New York State Office of the Attorney General, A Report on Arrests Arising From the New York City Police Department’s Stop-and-Frisk Practices (Nov. 2013)

The report analyzed almost 150,000 arrests that resulted from approximately 2.4 million stops by NYPD between 2009 and 2012, and concluded that roughly half of those arrests, or just three percent of stops, led to guilty pleas or convictions at trial. Of those guilty pleas and convictions, few involved guns or crimes of violence or yielded prison sentences longer than 30 days. The report also found widespread consequences for arrestees and criminal justice institutions, including litigation costs incurred by the city, and various harms even to individuals arrested for misdemeanors.

Texas Attorney General Criminal Justice Reports and Publications webpage.

A set of public data and reports collected and published by the Texas Attorney General’s office. Data sets include law enforcement custodial death reports and peace officer involved shootings. According to the website, “[t]he Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has adopted and published reporting forms for Officer-Involved Shooting Incidents, as required by Articles 2.139 and 2.1395 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which became effective September 1, 2015.  The forms along with the annual report(s) required to be issued by this office are found below.”

Police Oversight & Accountability

See here for the resources on Police Oversight & Accountability.

Prosecutorial Reform

Memo from Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings to Deputy Attorneys General and Staff on Fairness and Equity in the Criminal Justice System: Internal Policies (Feb. 15, 2019).

See, Shaun King, Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings Has Unveiled a Startingly Progressive Reform Agenda, The Intercept (Mar. 11, 2019).

New Jersey Office of the Attorney General Department of Law & Public Safety, Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2021-4 (April 19, 2021).

Directive No. 2021-4 directs prosecutors to waive the mandatory minimum terms associated with any non-violent drug offense under New Jersey law for current and past cases.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, Directive Establishing County Policies to Comply with Brady v. Maryland and Giglio v. United States (Dec. 4, 2019)

Effective March 1, 2020, this Attorney General Directive requires all County Prosecutors to implement written policies, in line with the Directive, setting out procedures for gathering, reviewing, and disclosing exculpatory and impeachment evidence in criminal cases. The Directive specifies a non-exhaustive list of examples of information that could require disclosure, including sustained findings of untruthfulness or bias.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, Directive Strengthening Oversight of Municipal Court Prosecutions (Dec. 4, 2019)

This Attorney General Directive requires all municipal prosecutors to register with the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) and file annual disclosure statements. This directive will help DCJ gather additional information needed to improve oversight of municipal prosecutors.

Krystal Rodriguez, Discovery Reform in New York Center for Court Innovation (May 2019)

Detailing and summarizing major legislative provisions requiring the sharing of evidence by default between the prosecution and defense in criminal cases on an accelerated timeline.

The Brennan Center for Justice, Fair and Just Prosecution & The Justice Collaborative, 21 Principles for the 21st Century Prosecutor (2018)

A blueprint for elected prosecutors seeking to move away from incarceration-based approaches and promote equity, fairness, and compassion while making communities safer and healthier.

Reentry

Virginia’s Future Directions in Re-Entry

The Virginia Re-Entry Portal, a statewide initiative by the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, was launched in July 2017 “to help local sheriffs prepare inmates for release and connect them with local community stakeholders.”

Restorative Justice

Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Restorative Justice Program

Launched in 2016, DC OAG’s Restorative Justice Program aims to address the root problems of crime and conflict, and offer an alternative to traditional prosecution of juveniles.  See, Carrie Johnson, Washington, D.C., Prosecutors Launch Restorative Justice Program for Juveniles, NPR.org (July 2, 2019)

Sentencing Reform

The National Association of Attorneys General, AG Roundtable – Sentencing Reform, Vimeo (Feb. 22, 2016).

Video of a roundtable discussion on sentencing reform between state Attorneys General at the National Association of Attorneys General 2016 Winter Meeting featuring Idaho AG Lawrence Wasden, Iowa AG Tom Miller, former Georgia AG Sam Olens, and Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum.

Wrongful Convictions

Delaware Department of Justice, Actual Innocence Program

The Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust within the Delaware Department of Justice handles applications from persons who are currently incarcerated who are in possession of physical or scientific evidence suggesting that they committed no criminal wrongdoing.

Michigan Department of Attorney General, Conviction Integrity Unit

In April 2019, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel launched one of the nation’s few statewide Conviction Integrity Units (CIU) within the department’s Criminal Appellate Division. The CIU investigates credible claims of innocence by convicted persons. The Department teamed up with Western Michigan University Cooley Law School to receive two federal grants to assist in reviewing more than 600 post-conviction claims of innocence.

The Office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, Press Release, Minnesota awarded federal grant to review legal cases for people believed to be innocent, (Oct. 2020)

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and the Innocence Project of Minnesota announced that the Innocence Project received a two-year, $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice that will fund the formation of Minnesota’s first-ever Conviction Review Unit (CRU), which will operate as a partnership between the Attorney General’s Office and the Innocence Project of Minnesota.

New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, Office of Public Integrity & Accountability, Conviction Review Unit

Created in April 2019, the Conviction Review Unit (CRU) reviews claims of actual innocence by person convicted of felonies in New Jersey state courts.

New York State Attorney General, Conviction Review Bureau (April 2012)

Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, Press Release, AG Shapiro Launches Pennsylvania’s First Statewide Conviction Integrity Unit (Feb. 12, 2020)

Virginia's Attorney General Launches Conviction Integrity Unit to Identify Wrongful ConvictionsThe Washington Post (January 16, 2021).

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring is launching the state’s first Conviction Integrity Unit, to identify and overturn wrongful convictions. He also notes that he noted that a law passed by the Virginia General Assembly last year expanded the pool of defendants who are eligible to challenge their convictions.

Fair and Just Prosecution, Conviction Integrity and Review: Statement of Principles (2019)

FJP’s best practices for creating and operating a Conviction Integrity Unit that can effectively identify and correct past injustices and help to prevent future wrongful convictions, while strengthening trust in the integrity of the justice system.