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Vote to Protect and Expand

Justice Reform in 2022

Ending the era of mass incarceration means dismantling the “tough-on-crime” approach and racial bias that has come to define criminal justice. Too many Delaware residents have been adversely affected by the justice system, a system that disproportionately impacts people of color. From instances of police violence to the barriers to jobs, education, and housing due to a record — the devastating consequences of our harsh, ineffective, and costly criminal justice system have fallen overwhelmingly on low-income people and Black and brown communities.

Smart Justice in Delaware means reducing the size of our prison population so that more resources can be devoted to high-quality programs that support communities and reduce the footprint of mass incarceration. Delaware needs elected officials who are dedicated to ending mass incarceration and challenging racial disparities in our justice system. This election season, let’s support candidates who are willing to hold police accountable, protect the rights of those incarcerated, reform harsh sentencing laws, end unjust practices like cash bail, combat racial inequities, expand access to second chances, and push for investments in alternatives to policing and prisons.

Our Smart Justice Platform

Learn more about what Smart Justice issues to consider when casting your ballot.

Police Accountability and Transparency

Under current laws in Delaware, the public is not guaranteed any transparency in a police-involved incident. In fact, Delaware’s Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) makes public access to police investigations impossible. As a result, the public has no insight into why an incident occurred, what could have prevented the incident, or what disciplinary actions, if any, resulted from the investigations. Delaware’s LEOBOR statute is the worst in the nation for transparency, making the state a leader in police secrecy.

With the staggering number of police-involved shootings that occur each year in Delaware, officers must be held accountable to earn trust and protect public safety. We must elect lawmakers who support amending LEOBOR to make police disciplinary records public and enable the creation of community oversight boards with the power to hear and decide police disciplinary matters.
These reforms have strong support across the state. 71% of Delawareans support creating community oversight boards that would investigate and advise on discipline for officers, and 68% of Delawareans support making Delaware police officers’ disciplinary records available to the public. It’s time for lawmakers to listen to Delawareans. Supporting candidates who are willing to hold law enforcement accountable is the first step towards creating transparency in policing.

Probation Reform

For individuals returning home after incarceration, the barriers to successful reentry are substantial. Returning citizens struggle to find housing, transportation, medical care, and employment at a liveable wage. On top of this, many face mental health and substance abuse challenges. The probation system and its myriad of reporting requirements, meetings, costs for treatment, curfews, and surveillance are insurmountable hurdles for too many.

The probation system is not making Delaware safer. Instead, it is costing the state millions of dollars that could be spent on victim services and community-based treatment and rehabilitation programs. If Delaware cut the number of probation violations by 60%and reduced the average length of time a person must serve for a violation from 4 to 2 months, it would reduce its prison population by 1,092 people and save at least $37 million by 2025.

We must elect lawmakers who are ready to implement significant reforms to Delaware’s probation systems. Real probation reform begins with elected officials who are prepared to champion the following reforms:

  • Shutting down Operation Safe Streets and The Governor’s Task Force;
  • Eliminating probation sentences for minor convictions;
  • Stopping incarceration for technical violations;
  • Customizing probation terms to meet individual needs;
  • Measuring the probation department’s success by its ability to keep people on probation from incarceration;
  • Collecting and publishing race data;
  • Investing in community-based reentry programs to provide formerly incarcerated people the help they need; and
  • Limiting probation terms to one year.

Learn more about probation reform here.

Expanding Access to Second Chances

America’s decades-old culture of “tough-on-crime” policies has created an unprecedented crisis in our legal system: up to 400,000 people in Delaware live with a record. These records remain public forever, unless they are expunged, and limit access to jobs, housing, education, credit, and the ability to fully participate in social and civic life. Delaware does provide pathways for record clearance, but in 2020, less than 1% of the 290,000+ people eligible for an expungement actually received one.

True justice reform does not stop with ending mass incarceration — we must also fight to ensure that all justice-involved individuals have the opportunity for a real second chance. When Delawareans face court-ordered fines and fees, many do not have the means to pay the amount that’s been imposed. This can begin a “debt spiral,” in which the inability to pay a fine or fee results in additional criminal charges, incarceration, and even more court-ordered debts. We must elect leaders who will support legislation that limits the use of fines and fees and breaks down the barriers to accessing true second chances.

Suggestions for Specific Measures:

  • Eliminate fines and fees as a barrier to expungement eligibility.
  • Expand eligibility for automatic mandatory expungement.
  • Ensure successful and efficient implementation of Delaware’s automatic expungement law.
  • Consider an individual’s ability to pay when determining whether to impose a fine or fee.

Learn more about HB 244, a first step in the effort to address the cycle of poverty caused by Delaware’s system of fines and fees here.

Learn more about expanding access to second chances here.