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.
California Courts, SB 10: Pretrial Release and Detention
Provides an overview of a law that authorizes a change to California’s pretrial release system from a money-based system to a risk-based release and detention system. On January 16, 2019, Referendum 1856 (18-0009), Referendum to Overturn a 2018 Law That Replaced Money Bail System with a System Based on Public Safety Risk, qualified for the November 2020 ballot, staying the effect of SB 10.
See, Erwin Chemerinsky, Improve SB 10, don’t eliminate it, The Sacramento Bee (Jan. 27, 2019)
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…”
The website provides data and information on New Jersey’s pretrial risk assessment system.
Taryn A. Merkl, New York’s Upcoming Bail Reform Changes Explained, Brennan Center for Justice (Dec. 10, 2019)
Insha Rahman, New York, New York: Highlights of the 2019 Bail Reform Law, Vera Institute of Justice (July 2019)
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.
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 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.
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
California Department of Justice, Sacramento Police Department: Report and Recommendations (January 2019).
In early 2019, the California Department of Justice released a report on use of force-related polices, training, and practices within the Sacramento Police Department (SPD). The purpose of the report is to provide SPD with recommendations grounded in evidence and promising practices from around the country to help guide the reform efforts it has independently committed to pursue.
Illinois Attorney General’s Office, Reforming Chicago’s Police Department (January 2019).
In January 2019, a federal court approved a consent decree that requires reform of the Chicago Police Department. The decree was negotiated by both the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. This website provides detailed information and resources about the process.
New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, Excellence in Policing Initiative (Dec. 4, 2019) See, S.P. Sullivan and Blake Nelson, Sweeping changes coming to how N.J. cops use force and how it is investigated NJ.com (Dec. 4, 2019)
See also Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2005-1, Establishing an Official Statewide Policy Defining and Prohibiting the Practice of “Racially-Influenced Policing,” and Overview of New Jersey’s Racial Profiling Policy
This website contains information on SIP’s mandate and all investigation reports, including biennial reports. “On July 8, 2015, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order No. 147, which appointed the New York State Attorney General as special prosecutor in incidents where a law enforcement officer causes the death of an unarmed civilian, or where there is a significant question as to whether the civilian was armed and dangerous. The following day, the office announced the creation of the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit (SIPU) to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute all cases that fall within the scope of Executive Order 147.”
Press Release, Attorney General James Launches Investigation Into NYPD For Alleged Targeting of Communities of Color on NYC Subways (Jan. 13, 2020)
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Statement on Investigation of Officer Involved Shooting of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams (Feb. 5, 2013)
Attorney General Mark DeWine stated that a November 2012 police chase that ended with the fatal shooting of two suspects revealed a "systemic failure" of the Cleveland police department, citing both individual policy violations by police officers and the failure of their communications and command system to provide adequate structure and support. He later stated that, “People in leadership need to take responsibility. The police department system failed these officers and they failed the general public. You can’t look at that report and come up with any other conclusion,” after Police Chief Michael McGrath responded to DeWine's assertions at a later City Hall press conference saying there was no "systematic failure.”
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) 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. This website posts all of the reports.
Office of the Vermont Attorney General, Proposed Policy: Bias-Free Policing (Nov. 29, 2010)
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 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.
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.”
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)
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.
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.
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)
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.