April 14, 2024
Some cities and states are continuing to relax criminal justice standards after two years of rising crime and a backlash to the social justice movement that drove such reforms initially.

Some cities and states are continuing to relax criminal justice standards after two years of rising crime and a backlash to the social justice movement that drove such reforms initially.

The push comes as other jurisdictions are rethinking policies that lowered incarceration rates and that critics have blamed for a rise in crime rates over the past two years.


A handful of jurisdictions even elected local leaders in November who will soon come into office to pursue the equity-focused agenda they ran on.

In Illinois, for example, various parts of the state are locked in a legal battle over a controversial policy that will effectively end cash bail on Jan. 1.

Lawmakers moved last year to overhaul the bail system with the SAFE-T Act, which they amended further before Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed it into law this month in an effort to address activists’ concerns that cash bail disproportionately denies freedoms to low-income people.

The law gives judges discretion in determining whether a defendant poses a risk to society when ruling on pretrial detention. Money can no longer factor into pretrial detention decisions under the provisions.

While proponents of the law say it includes safeguards that ensure judges leave dangerous people behind bars, critics have said too many criminals could end up back on the streets to re-offend.

Dozens of Illinois counties banded together this month in a lawsuit arguing, among other things, that the law represents an unconstitutional overreach from state legislature into matters of the judicial system.

A judge agreed, and heading into the new year, the pretrial release part of the law remained paused in 65 counties. Local officials in other counties — including Cook County, home to Chicago — prepared to move forward with the elimination of cash bail.

The rest of the law, which includes requirements for all police to wear body cameras, was set to go into effect as planned.

In Michigan, a law taking effect in the spring will allow convicted felons to have parts of their record automatically expunged after their release from prison.

Under the new law, offenders can have two felony convictions taken off their record 10 years after either leaving custody or getting sentenced, excluding several serious offenses. Offenders can get four misdemeanors expunged seven years after their sentencing.

Critics of automatic expungement laws like the new one in Michigan say criminal records should remain available to employers and landlords for safety reasons, among other objections.

California is set to implement an even more far-reaching version of an expungement law in July despite the objections of law enforcement groups.

California’s law will automatically seal almost all criminal records four years after offenders complete their sentences, excluding some serious offenses, and clear all arrest records for offenders who were never convicted.

That law has vocal critics, including state Republicans who noted that domestic violence was among the crimes offenders could have sealed from the public a few years after serving their sentences.

The Peace Officers Research Association of California, the biggest law enforcement group in California, said the law could put law-abiding people in danger.

“By allowing violent criminals back on the street, with their record dismissed, they will have less deterrent to commit another crime,” the group said in a statement.

Some voters elected leaders who promised to push more of the liberal law enforcement policies that have, according to critics, contributed to a rise in crime.

Alameda County, California, elected a district attorney in November, for example, who campaigned on a slate of liberal reforms that included not charging younger offenders as adults and placing more scrutiny on prosecutors seeking to secure criminal convictions.

Oakland, California, which is in Alameda County, saw a significant increase in murders over the past two years as that region grapples with a spike in crime.


In Hennepin County, Minnesota, where George Floyd’s murder in 2020 supercharged the progressive criminal justice reform movement, Mary Moriarty’s win this fall in the district attorney race suggested a new raft of liberal changes could be on the way for the jurisdiction.

Moriarty ran on increasing diversion programs to keep people out of prison and reducing the role money plays in the bail system, among other changes that have taken heat amid the rise in crime.

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