Politics of Criminal Justice Reform

There is an interesting policy divide in the apparent momentum towards criminal justice reform. Nominally bi-partisan, there appear to be in fact two very different views of where the issues are and how to move forward. A recent article by Republican leadership in Congress mentions two issues, mens rea reform and over criminalization, but focusses almost exclusively on the idea that mens rea reform will provide the most needed systemic reform by reducing the number of people charged or convicted of crimes they were not aware of or lacked intent to do anything wrong. Politico. This fits neatly with the narrative around the interest of the Koch brothers and other conservatives essentially linking reform philosophically to the idea of smaller government. Rebranding the Koch Brothers. On the other side of the issue is the idea that the sheer mass of criminal statutes, couple with little or no limit on prosecutorial discretion, results in a staggering rate of guilty pleas and incarceration (“Why Innocent People Plead Guilty”), an issue closely related to progressive’s concern about institutional and class-based problems in the system. It seems unclear how these two narratives will in fact meet as a bi-partisan agenda.

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