Criminal Justice Reform Means Big Changes For DE Offenders - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

Criminal Justice Reform Means Big Changes For DE Offenders

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DELAWARE – Three new bills signed into law today, could be a big step in addressing challenges with Delaware's inmate population, both current and former.

One goal that all three pieces of legislation seems to address – population.

According to a study released by the Delaware Criminal Justice Council Statistical Analysis Center in 2013, after one year out of prison, 45 percent of Delaware offenders ended up back in jail. After three years, that number jumped to 67 percent.

"If someone comes back then we haven't accomplished what we hoped to accomplish, and that's rehabilitation," says Robert Coupe, Commissioner of the Delaware Department of Correction.

A task that is not easy for a state that has a rate of 443 incarcerated adults per 100,000 people. According to the National Institute of Corrections website, that is above the national average. However, now that four criminal justice reform bills are signed, and now law, the Department of Correction feels those numbers could change.

One of the new laws, for instance, allows the DOC to hire qualified ex-offenders into a short-term job training program to give those who have paid their debt to society a better opportunity to reintegrate into their communities. The Department can reportedly offer employment for up to 6 months to ex-offenders who demonstrate exceptional job skills while enrolled in a Level 4 or Level 5 vocational program, notwithstanding any prior felony convictions.

"They go out to a prospective employer and they have to talk about their criminal history, not every employer is comfortable with that," says Commissioner Coupe. "We're hoping that the community will see since we're willing to hire them back if it's in a part-time capacity, that hopefully they'll feel more comfortable doing that."

To help some of those ex-offenders keep the job, another new law will eliminate the loss of a driver's license for drug crimes that do not have to do with automobiles.

"That's especially important in Kent and Sussex County where we have a lot of rural area and not a lot of public transportation," says John Brady, a defense attorney in Delaware. "It's better to have people licensed on the road than unlicensed uninsured drivers on the road."

"Especially for those under parole supervision, when they don't get there and they fail it's not good for them or for us, some spiral downwards," says Commissioner Coupe. "We see this as a real positive step."

Another big change for Delaware involved reforming sentencing laws. Up until now, the first state was the only state left that still forced judges to impose consecutive sentences. Under House Bill 312, sentences can be served concurrently.

While some argue this could jeopardize safety, supporters say they are confident that the judiciaries would never let that happen.

"Our judges are well vetted, well-trained, and giving them the discretion to sentence appropriately is a good thing for Delaware," says Brady.

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