It is the policy of the National Conference of State Legislatures to advance and defend a balanced, dynamic criminal justice partnership between governments at the local, state, and federal levels while preserving traditional areas of state authority in this area of the law.
NCSL urges Congress and the Administration to avoid federalizing crime policy and substituting national laws for state and local policy decisions affecting criminal and juvenile justice. Federal jurisdiction should be reserved for areas where a national problem has been identified and states are unable to adequately provide solutions due to scope, or is required to protect federal constitutional rights. The federal government should partner with states to examine ways to avoid unnecessary preemption of state laws; and should strive to maintain its current financial commitments to existing state-federal partnership programs.
NCSL believes that federal actions must recognize that states and local governments have the predominant responsibility to ensure public safety and the administration of justice, and must adhere to fundamental principles of federalism in all areas of criminal justice, including but not limited to:
Improvement of the Structure of State Criminal Justice Systems
NCSL urges the federal government to include states in the development stages and on the board of any commissions or task forces that work to improve or review state criminal justice structures. NCSL insists that the federal government not infringe on the legitimate rights of the states to determine their own criminal laws, but shall include them in the process of working to create better state criminal justice systems overall. As states strive to improve policies and practices related to criminal justice, NCSL supports direct participation by state policymakers in any federal policy efforts or proposed legislation to redefine how those relationships should be strengthened.
Federal Financial Assistance
States continue to improve criminal justice systems and policies and recognize that federal funding is sometimes necessary to implement state reforms in this area. Funding levels for Department of Justice grants and reimbursements to states should be maintained or increased. These programs include the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) grant program, the Second Chance Act grant program, the State Criminal Alien Assistance state reimbursement program (SCAAP), the Violence Against Women grant programs (VAWA), and the Community Oriented Policing Services grant programs (COPS). NCSL also supports any other federal grant program that seeks to assist states in addressing state criminal justice issues, such as school violence or opioid abuse reduction.
NCSL opposes Congressional proposals or federal regulations that would withhold a portion of state Byrne/JAG funds, COPS funds, SCAAP funds, or any other state criminal justice funds as a penalty for noncompliance with federal criminal justice policies. NCSL opposes the withholding of any federal criminal justice funding as a penalty for state policy choices. NCSL urges the federal government to respect state criminal justice priorities and advance change through partnerships rather than mandates. Where new federal grant programs to states are created, NCSL maintains that funding should be directed to states rather than pass directly to local governments.
Sex Offender Registration
NCSL opposes federal mandates concerning registration of sex offenders, in particular those contained in the Title I SORNA provisions of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. The mandates imposed by this Act are not only preemptive, but they are also inflexible and, in some instances, not able to be implemented by states. States should be permitted to classify and penalize sex offenders and establish registration and notification requirements in accordance with their own state laws, particularly with respect to juveniles. States should define and decide which juvenile offenders meet criteria for sex offender registration and be afforded the flexibility to implement state procedures that best address this population.
The federal government should provide technological support and federal funding assistance to states with regard to sex offender registration and public notice systems, including cooperation with the federal National Sex Offender Public Website (NCOPW). NCSL supports frequent and meaningful communication between the Department of Justice and state policymakers and implementing agencies so that information on procedures that meet or fail to meet federal guidelines and statutory requirements are effectively conveyed to the states.
NCSL urges the federal government to interpret “substantial compliance” as called for in the SORNA provisions of the Adam Walsh Act to allow state flexibility for matters such as tier systems, retroactivity, and juvenile registration, and allow for substantial implementation as long as a state’s compliance efforts have not frustrated the primary purpose of the Act. NCSL calls upon the federal government to exercise the utmost flexibility in determining whether to penalize states that are working in good faith toward compliance with federal law. States should not be responsible and penalized for absence of compliance by sovereign tribal jurisdictions.
States must preserve authority to determine which juveniles involved with the justice system are treated like adults, under what circumstances, and for how long, with regard to sex offender registration and all other matters of juvenile and criminal justice policy.
NCSL supports the goals of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and urges the federal government to provide state flexibility in achieving these objectives. NCSL also supports the role of the federal government in providing states with financial resources to strengthen juvenile justice systems. This includes federal funding for state juvenile justice programs. Federal involvement should be confined to providing grants and technical assistance to states that facilitate effective juvenile justice policies; and the federal government should not attach mandates to the receipt of related federal funds, but should encourage states to implement effective policies and techniques for addressing juvenile delinquency, crime and justice.
NCSL supports a strong intergovernmental partnership to fight the illegal use of drugs; and asks that development of broad federal drug control strategies seek and include NCSL and other state and local consultation. NCSL supports a balanced federal approach for interdiction, law enforcement, prevention, education and treatment. NCSL encourages the federal government to take a proactive role in securing United States borders against importation of illicit drugs; substance misuse and in detection and deterrence of interstate drug trafficking, including cooperation with state and local law enforcement. While money for law enforcement is critical, federal dollars also should help support diversion, treatment and prevention efforts, including but not limited to interdisciplinary drug court funding unaccompanied by testing or other mandates.
NCSL supports federal demonstration, funding and training roles that assist states in implementation and use of modern information systems that aid in detection and prevention of drug abuse, and for remediation of sites that have been used in illegal drug manufacture. NCSL encourages federal leadership and resources that assist state and local governments in other activities that address education, prevention, enforcement, and treatment related to illicit drugs, substance misuse, and emerging drug threats, including but not limited to synthetic drugs and opioid abuse. NCSL opposes federal mandates or other preemptive policies with regard to addressing drug abuse and related drug crimes.
Sentencing, Corrections and Recidivism Reduction
Federal jurisdiction for crimes also covered under state law can create competition to escalate punishments and build more prisons. This competition is shortsighted, expensive and unnecessary. The national government should refrain from making federal crimes of state offenses or from enhancing sentences for crimes that are more properly the domain of states. NCSL supports federal leadership and funding for state reentry and reintegration initiatives and criminal justice reinvestment approaches. These initiatives assist states in addressing recidivism, reentry, and healthy communities. State and local governments should be afforded maximum flexibility in using federal funds that support criminal justice systems, including but not limited to drug treatment and mental health services. NCSL opposes any legislation that would restrict state flexibility in sentencing and corrections policy. NCSL recognizes the importance of resources to address the mental health and substance misuses cases facing many states and local communities. NCSL urges the federal government to address federal expungement requirements which can impede reentry and job security.
NCSL also supports full funding of the Second Chance Act which provides grants to states that are used to promote the safe and successful re-integration of individuals who have been incarcerated. This in turn reduces recidivism, increases public safety and assists states in better responding to the growing numbers of people released from prisons and jails who are returning to the community.
The issues surrounding the creation of sound state policy with respect to justice involved individuals with behavioral health needs is of growing importance to states. NCSL supports federal legislation that would enhance state research and implementation of sound policies that address behavioral health needs of justice-involved. NCSL supports federal legislation that seeks to enhance state treatment courts (mental health courts, drug courts, and veteran’s courts), training for state professionals that work with the justice involved with behavioral health needs, and funding that will complement state innovative programs in this area.
Crime Records and Information
NCSL supports such state-federal information systems and sharing partnerships in the states; and asserts that records available via such systems should continue to be predominately state-maintained and that state policies for dissemination of those records should be recognized and adhered to under the systems. NCSL supports federal assistance in improving state criminal history records and related information systems. NCSL opposes preemption of state authority related to crime records and information.
NCSL supports the use of all federal databases including, but not limited to the Interstate Identification Index (III) for exchange of criminal history record information; and the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) for crime record and other criminal justice information including fugitives, stolen properties and missing persons. These systems provide means for information sharing under interstate compacts such as the National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact, the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision, and the Interstate Compact for Juveniles.
NCSL supports federal non-preemptive initiatives that use DNA records in crime-solving and the administration of justice, including the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Federal funds, including those for DNA analysis backlog elimination, should support the use of DNA as an interstate investigative tool while adhering to state law and placing no mandates on states regarding collection, dissemination or use of records.
NCSL supports a strong state-federal partnership to assist crime victims; and urges continued federal assistance to states provided for in the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). NCSL encourages the Congress to preserve this primary means by which the federal government provides support to crime victims and their families, via state crime victims and assistance programs. NCSL opposes arbitrary caps which result in diminished services and assistance for crime victims.
NCSL supports means for enhanced cooperation between state and federal law enforcement. NCSL opposes proposals that blur jurisdictional lines of responsibility and serve to disrupt rather than support efforts of state and local law enforcement. NCSL opposes proposals that seek to remove from states and communities the responsibility for determining disciplinary procedures for state and local law enforcement.
NCSL supports the full funding of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) grant program and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Act. COPS Hiring Grants have been instrumental in enhancing the effectiveness of community policing in America. Federal funding for the COPS program relieves the strain on state budgets to provide adequate and effective law enforcement personnel.
NCSL opposes proposals to shift traditional federal responsibility for civil immigration enforcement to state or local law enforcement agencies and personnel. State and local jurisdictions should have the authority to enter into cooperative, voluntary agreements with the federal government for this or other traditionally federal enforcement matters but should not be compelled by federal law to do so.