Our American States | An NCSL Podcast

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The “Our American States” podcast—produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures—is where you hear compelling conversations that tell the story of America’s state legislatures, the people in them, the politics that compel them, and the important work of democracy.

You can listen to the podcast on this page, you can subscribe through iTunes or Google Play, or you can use the RSS icon at the right to copy a feed URL for your podcatcher. 

Criminal Justice

12

Determining if a driver has too much alcohol in his or her system is now easily measured. But with more states approving the sale and use of recreational marijuana, knowing whether a driver is impaired with that drug—or other substances—is much more difficult to prove scientifically. In this episode, we explore actions states are taking to address this complex issue. Our guests are: 

  • Robert Ritter, director of the Office of Impaired Driving and Occupant Protection at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Representative Jonathan Singer (D-Colo.), who successfully guided legislation through his state legislature on this issue soon after Colorado became the first to approve recreational marijuana.

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11

While the country mostly hears how the political parties don’t work together, criminal justice reform is an untold story of how bipartisanship works. States are working together to reduce recidivism, provide released inmates a course for a productive future, and address the backgrounds and experiences of offenders to change behaviors.

To illustrate that point, our podcast focuses on laws approved in two states, Mississippi and Colorado. Our guests are:

  • Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R), who got bipartisan support for legislation to make major reforms on how the state works with former inmates. The former deputy sheriff says his thinking about nonviolent offenders has changed over time.
  • Colorado Representative Leslie Herod (D), who has gained bipartisan support for measures addressing education opportunities for offenders, expanding the definition of crime victims, and removing “the box” to help former inmates seeking jobs or education.

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16

An estimated 25 million Americans are rape survivors. The Bureau of Justice Statistics three years ago estimated only 23 percent of rapes or sexual assaults are reported. For those that do report their assaults, they are confronted with medial and legal procedures that are challenging and sometimes not understandable. And there is an assumption that if a rape kit is produced, it will be stored as long as the victim needs. But the local and state laws across the country are not uniform and victims are sometimes surprised their kits have either not been tested or are no longer available. We have two guests who have been deeply involved in this field.

  • Amanda Nguyen is the founder of Rise, a nonprofit that fights for the civil rights of sexual violence survivors. As a student at Harvard on a promising astrophysics track, she was raped. Her experience led her to work with Congress and the administration to pass the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights just two years later. Her work has resulted in changes in more than 20 states.
  • Kemp Hannon, as a New York state senator, successfully passed legislation that led to sweeping changes in how his state handles, processes and stores rape kits. He said many in law enforcement and even district attorneys believed rape kits were being tested and stored for future use. His research and work with advocate organizations found a different story and he was determined to change it.

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25

Sates work to improve community safety in several ways, including the reduction of serious crime, ensuring fair enforcement of the laws and increasing police effectiveness. On this episode of “Our American States,” we examine the issues of policing, policy, costs, communication between communities and law enforcement agencies, and the need for criminal justice reform, including alternatives to incarceration of people needing mental health treatment. Our program gets insightful perspectives from those who deeply involved in these issues. Our guests are:

  • Barry Friedman, director of The Policing Project at the New York University School of Law, a nonprofit that works to ensure the community’s voice and sound decision-making techniques are part of the policing. He is the author of “Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission.”
  • Ron Serpas is a former police superintendent of New Orleans and the executive director of Law Enforcement Leaders, an organization of more than 200 current and former police chiefs, sheriffs, federal and state prosecutors and attorneys general from all 50 states working for a reduction in both crime and incarceration.

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26

How does this country treat juveniles who commit offenses? Each state approaches the issue differently. The way we look at juveniles who commit crimes from misdemeanors to felonies shifts based on legal rulings and research. Our guests on this edition of "Our American States" take a look at the key issues, research and legislation affecting juvenile justice.

We'll first hear from Marsha Levick, the deputy director and chief counsel for the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. She's been involved in U.S. Supreme Court cases, and her group works on legal issues involving juveniles. She led a famous effort that removed state judges who were sentencing juveniles without representation and receiving kickbacks from for-profit juvenile facilities.

Then we'll talk with Kentucky state Senator Whitney Westerfield (R), who chairs the NCSL Juvenile Justice Principles Work Group, made up of 15 state legislative leaders in juvenile justice from across the country. The senator shares how the above quote, by Frederick Douglass, has helped shape his views on juvenile justice and led to comprehensive reform in his state. The bill has been promoted as a model by the Right on Crime national campaign.

Both give their perspective on the importance on collecting data and using it in a positive way.

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