Hot Topics and Features


NCSL tracks perennial criminal justice issues, and also provides information and analysis on current hot topics of interest to lawmakers and their constituents, including issues like marijuana; human trafficking; juvenile life without parole; death penalty; law enforcement; drug crime policy; mental health needs in the criminal justice system and other issues.

Issues covered here:

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is the buying, selling and smuggling of people to profit from their forced labor or sexual servitude. While every state criminalizes at least some trafficking activity, lawmakers continue to explore new methods to combat traffickers and provide support for victims. (More)

Drug Crime Policy

Criminal drug policy is an important and perennial issue for state legislatures. Recently, lawmakers have re-examined their approach to certain drug crimes. Changes have covered drug sentencingsynthetic drugs, pretrial diversion, Good Samaritan immunity laws, and expanded access to the rescue drug naloxone. (More)


The cannabis landscape is changing with legalization or decriminalization happening in many states. Details can be found in the pages on clearing criminal records for cannabis offenses, marijuana overview and marijuana deep dive.

Mental Health Needs in the Criminal Justice System

An important and intersecting area of criminal justice and health policy is how to better handle persons with a mental illness who become involved in the criminal justice system. (More)

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement agencies are charged with preventing crime and ensuring public safety while respecting the rights and liberties of the communities they serve. Recent state legislative actions have focused on maintaining an appropriate balance of those interests and improving the relationship law enforcement has with the general public. (More)

Alternatives to Incarceration and Juvenile Detention Reform

A growing number of states are re-examining and amending juvenile detention policies to reduce unnecessary reliance on secure confinement.  (More)

Civil and Constitutional Law

Protecting our civil and constitutional rights are as important now as ever before. States are examining ways to protect religious freedom, the application of foreign law in state courts, and a number of other issues related to our civil rights.  (More)

Child Support and Incarceration

Generally, incarcerated parents come in contact with a child support program in one of two ways. Either they are incarcerated for non-compliance with a child support order, or they are in prison for an unrelated offense and they have an open child support case. (More)

DNA and Forensics

During the last 20 years, DNA analysis has developed into one of law enforcement’s most effective crime fighting tools. DNA analysis allows laboratory personnel to match biological samples from suspects to crimes scenes, crime scenes to other crime scenes and even crime scenes to family members of the suspects. DNA analysis has gained the attention of legislators for its ability to aid law enforcement in reducing crime, catching repeat offenders and exonerating those wrongfully convicted of crimes. (More)

Other Issues: