By Amber Widgery
Earlier this year more than 70 state lawmakers from 33 states and Puerto Rico gathered in Fort Myers, Fla., to learn about and identify common ground on criminal justice policy.
The event, Advancing Justice 2020, was a historic meeting hosted by NCSL in partnership with Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the National Asian Pacific American Caucus of State Legislators, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators, the National Foundation for Women Legislators and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.
This landmark gathering of lawmakers was made possible through an NCSL partnership with Stand Together.
Meeting attendees heard from national experts, directly affected individuals and legislative colleagues who have championed reform in their own states. Major topics addressed at Advancing Justice included early alternative interventions, drug policy, community involvement in reform and employment for returning citizens.
In addition to informational plenary sessions, attendees also had the opportunity to meet in smaller breakout groups and drill down into specific topics, such as law enforcement and prosecutorial discretion, access to counsel, probation and parole supervision strategies and civil asset forfeiture.
More than half of all attendees who were surveyed identified early intervention and deflection as the policy area they were most interested in exploring when they returned to their home states.
The current global pandemic has likely impacted the ability of those legislators to focus on early intervention and deflection legislation. However, existing legal frameworks and policies are certainly something that local criminal justice stakeholders have paid a lot more attention to. Many jurisdictions have utilized current laws and policies to ramp up deflection of as many individuals as possible from the justice system to help safely reduce jail populations by reducing the number of individuals who quickly cycle in and out of jail.
Advancing Justice attendees also identified jails, prisons and pretrial policy as key topics being discussed in their states at the time of the meeting. Those conversations continue, but the immediate focus has shifted towards policies that can address the current COVID-19 outbreak in jails and prisons. Resources on criminal justice system responses to COVID-19 are available on NCSL’s webpage.
Criminal justice policy resources and information on from the meeting can be accessed on the meeting webpage here.
Amber Widgery is a program principal in NCSL’s Criminal Justice Program.