Criminal justice system policies are changing for the better

The Delaware State News has printed many of my submissions somewhat critical of politicians; it now is time for us to praise some of them. I attended the meeting of the Delaware Board of Pardons on Dec. 14, 2017, and saw what I had thought I might not see for years: significant progress in the thinking and attitudes of many about our criminal justice system.

From my conversations with old acquaintances like Tom Foley (now leading a state bail reform committee) and Kathleen Jennings (now with New Castle County but previously head prosecutor in Delaware for years) and others, it is clear that they and many others are starting to realize that we have made big mistakes which must be corrected.

What kind of mistakes? Primarily, thinking that “tough on crime” (mandatory minimum and “habitual” laws) reduce crime. Also, (a) thinking that long prison sentences reduce crime, (b) thinking that prison is the place for nonviolent drug offenders, the mentally ill, and others, (c) thinking that cash bail is a good idea. During the past 5 years I have seen numerous studies showing that none of these measures reduce crime!

Of 40 Applications for a Pardon, 39 were granted … truly an astonishing departure from the past practice of “deny, deny, deny”! Among the 11 inmates who had applied for a Sentence Commutation — early release — three were recommended to the governor to be granted (the three men who were brought in from the prison for a hearing), five were denied without a hearing, and the other three were deferred, to be considered next month when those three will be brought in for a hearing. Again, only five out of 11 denied is remarkable.

I write to commend Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall Long, the Honorable Andre Bouchard – Chancellor, State Auditor Tom Wagner, and State Treasurer Ken Simpler for doing the right thing. I have been (and always will be) steadfastly critical of those who fail to see the flaws in the system and who fail to do justice … so let’s give credit where credit is due!

Since that meeting I see that Gov. Cuomo of New York has granted an unprecedented number of pardons. Yes, policies are changing for the better!

Ken Abraham is a former Deputy Attorney General, founder of Citizens for Criminal JUSTICE, and co-founder of Team Posner Law Group, Dover.

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