Del. lawmakers unveil the biggest criminal justice reform effort in decades

DOVER, Del. – Delaware lawmakers are calling it the most comprehensive criminal justice reform effort in generations.

It’s a series of 19 bills in Delaware’s General Assembly that aims to tackle every aspect of the criminal justice system from the courts to life after incarceration.

“Criminal justice is not about vengeance and retribution, it should be about accountability, reform and restoration,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst.

On Thursday, Delaware lawmakers, the Department of Justice and others voiced a dire need for reform in the First State’s criminal justice system.

Delaware’s Attorney General Kathy Jennings exclaims, “The time is now to be bold, to be comprehensive so that we can make a substantial impact and at the same time keep Delawareans safe.”

Legislation that would expand adult expungements, remove drug offenses off the violent felonies list, and provide a tax incentive to employers who hire ex-cons.

It’s changes that many hope will lower recidivism and incarceration rates in Delaware.

“It costs at least $33,000 a year for each inmate for every year they’re incarcerated and so there are better ways to spend our money if we can have fewer people in prison and remain safe,” explains Jennings.

But former Delaware State Trooper Rep. Steve Smyk believes the system isn’t broken, it’s the lack of funding for it that is.

“We haven’t funded this system that is already set up for success and was successful greater than a decade ago, but because we haven’t funded the staffing we haven’t given enough counselors within and we’ve actually depleted the amount of services that we gave for mental health and substance abuse and now those patients are in our criminal justice system.”

Jennings adds, “There inevitably will be stakeholders who have concerns and we wanted to get this out in the public domain so there would be sufficient time to address those concerns.”

The ACLU of Delaware applauded the efforts of Delaware’s lawmakers who are proposing the package of reform bills stating, “The ACLU of Delaware commends our legislative leaders and Attorney General for putting time, careful thought and effort into confronting inequities and reevaluating our approach to crime, punishment, rehabilitation, and second chances.”

 

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