Yesterday, we saw an unprecedented move towards criminal justice reform nationwide. In his address at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Bar Association, United States Attorney General Eric Holder called for “significant actions to recalibrate America's federal criminal justice system", asserting that mass incarceration “at the federal, state and local level is both ineffective and unsustainable.” The transcript of his speech can be found here. Some of the highlights include:

  • Avoiding mandatory minimums for most low-level, non-violent drug offenders with no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels. See Holder’s memo to federal prosecutors.
  • Expanding the framework for compassionate release of non-violent offenders – including revised criteria for elderly inmates who have served a significant portion of their sentences. See ACLU report on the mass incarceration of the elderly.
  • Enhancing the use of diversion programs as an alternative to incarceration.
  • Fulfilling the promise of Gideon v. Wainwright (the landmark Supreme Court decision ruling that everyone charged with a serious crime has the right to an attorney) as well as calling on Congress to increase funding for indigent defense nationwide.

For a complete summary of reform proposals and the ACLU’s reaction to the speech click here.

In addition to Attorney General Holder’s speech, Judge Shira Scheindlin of the Eastern District of New York issued a 195-page decision declaring the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional.This practice has subjected thousands of New Yorkers to police stops and interrogations, and has led to unfair targeting of minorities. As Jon wrote yesterday, our colleagues at the NYCLU have been hugely involved in the effort to end this practice. To read more about the decision and the practice of stop-and-frisk click here.

Though Attorney General Holder's speech and Judge Scheindlin's decision indicate a HUGE shift in the right direction, there still remains a lot of work to be done. We need to ensure that these reforms actually come to fruition and that they are implemented not only at the federal, but also at the state and local level.

Happy beginning of the week everyone!