A couple of weeks ago, Attorney General Kathy Jennings (D) and certain Democratic lawmakers and other criminal justice officials announced a package of 19 bills aimed at reforming the criminal justice system to make it fairer. The bills aim to lessen the prison population, reduce sentences and make it easier for offenders to reintegrate back into society.
The criminal justice system has suffered from the dubious tough on crime mantra of the 1980’s that even the Democrats pursued so that they could look as tough as the Republicans and damn the consequences. However, those policies have decades later proven to be counterproductive and racist. About 23 percent of the state’s population is black, but, according to the Department of Correction, 60 percent of inmates as of 2017 were black.
The bills will 1) Expand the ability of the Board of Parole to offer conditional release for inmates; 2) Create a new commission focusing on sentencing guidelines; 3) Enable judges to issue sentences concurrently rather than consecutively to prevent “stacking”; 4) Eliminate most aggravating factors for drug crimes, which disproportionately impact individuals living in cities; 5) Lessen the penalties for drug offenses; 6) Offer tax credits to employers who hire ex-convicts; 7) Expand the circumstances under which an adult can obtain an expungement sealing his or her criminal history; 8) Mandate the consideration of an individual’s financial situation before assessing fines and fees; 9) Limit what the court can impose financial penalties for; 10) Forbid the suspension of a driver’s license due to the failure to pay fines and fees; 11) Prevent the prosecution of minors younger than 12 except for rape and murder; 12) Requiring that charges to be based off when the offense occurred, not when charges were handed down, meaning more individuals will be tried as juveniles for crimes committed as minors; 13) Making underage possession or use of alcohol a civil violation, and 14) Making underage possession or use of marijuana a civil violation rather than a criminal offense.
That last item will constitute this bill post. Over the next two weeks or so, Senate and House Bills will be introduced to convert these priorities into laws. Some have already been introduced. When we discuss bills at Blue Delaware, we usually include the bill number, like SB58, first in the title. For this package of criminal justice reform bills, we will be adding the abbreviation CJR, for criminal justice reform, so that you will know that an individual bill is part of a larger package.
Senate Bill 45, sponsored by Sen. Trey Paradee and Rep. Franklin Cooke, would make the possession, use, or consumption of a personal use quantity of marijuana a civil violation for juveniles. Under current law, the possession, use, or consumption of a personal use quantity of marijuana remains a crime for those under the age of 21 despite being a civil violation for adults. This Act makes the possession, use, or consumption of a personal use quantity of marijuana a civil violation for juveniles.
WHERE IS THE BILL? Senate Health & Social Services 3/20/19
DEMOCRATIC SPONSORS – Paradee, McBride, Cooke, Osienski, Schwartzkopf, Kowalko, Hansen, Sokola, Sturgeon, Baumbach, Chukwuocha, Heffernan, Q.Johnson, Longhurst, Lynn, Matthews
REPUBLICAN SPONSORS – Delcollo
YES VOTES –
NO VOTES –
And so for one brief, shining moment common sense did prevail in the Delaware state government.