Washington, D.C. — A new column released today by the Center for American Progress calls for lawmakers to institutionalize a more deliberate and evidence-based process for understanding the impacts of laws that create or enhance criminal penalties.
According to the column, research shows that the trend toward longer and harsher criminal penalties provides only marginal improvements to public safety while enacting severe cost to taxpayers and communities who have been stuck in cycles of arrest and incarceration. Requiring an independent assessment with sobering information on the impact of legislation that adds or increases criminal penalties is one important way to halt enacting unnecessary, duplicative, ineffective, or prejudicial federal criminal penalties.
The authors point out that adding procedural changes to encourage deliberation during the legislative process is not a new concept; in fact, many states across the country have recognized the value of independent assessments that would consider, for example, the potential of creating racially disparate impacts. Iowa, Minnesota, Connecticut, Oregon, New Jersey, and Florida each established processes to produce racial impact statements that can provide disaggregated data and predictions of a criminal penalty’s impact across a population.
“As we continue to grapple with the role and nature of law enforcement in America, we would be remiss if we didn’t also critically examine the sources of the laws the police are enforcing,” said Ed Chung, vice president for Criminal Justice Reform at CAP and co-author of the column. “Lawmakers rely too heavily on the use of new and enhanced criminal penalties and are known to rush through the legislative process to appear responsive to public outcry or a high-profile event. But the weight of a criminal penalty requires careful deliberation and consideration of data and evidence. By requiring additional procedural steps, we can provide legislators with additional evidence to inform their decision to support or oppose new criminalization legislation and allow them time to consider nonpunitive alternatives.”
Read the column: “How To Stop the Rush To Enact New Federal Criminal Penalties” by Lea Hunter and Ed Chung
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