Groups want Delaware to get smart about justice

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been behind the scenes and on the forefront of criminal justice reform for some time now.

"Delaware has a mass incarceration problem and that's, primarily, what the ACLU of Delaware Campaign for Smart Justice is working on," said Erica Marshall, manager of the ACLU's Campaign for Smart Justice in Delaware.  "We're hoping to get a lot of grassroots support behind our efforts to cut the prison population in half, in the First State, as well as reduce racial disparities."

Organizations like Wilmington's Make Some Intelligent Noise and other have started giving those grassroots efforts some 'boots on the ground' and there have also been legislative moves being made in the effort.

Marshall appealed to the human decency in Delaware and beyond in the road that those with criminal records have to take once they've served their time.

"We've all grown up saying that once you've paid your debt to society, you should be welcomed back into society and we, as a group, will help you to get back on the wagon and become a productive member of society," she said on WDEL's Del-AWARE. "We have so many laws and collateral consequences to a felony conviction that it's become increasingly difficult for people to come back out and become productive members of society. A felony record prevents people from getting jobs, housing and furthering education so it's like having a scarlet letter."

She referenced Delaware's Senate Bill 37, which would assist in the expungement of records and help get people out from behind prison walls back into the workforce and classrooms.

"There's so much urgency in the need to reform and SB 37 is a start," she added. "It doesn't prevent people from going in [to prison], but that's another issue--we really need to stop sending so many people to prison. It doesn't work as a deterrent and that's been proven in study after study."

She brought some statistics to the table to help support the notion.

"19 states in the last 20 years have reduced both their crime rates and incarceration levels while saving their states millions of dollars. That is the path that Delaware needs to go down. There's many people working towards that path including the Attorney General Kathy Jennings and we're supportive of her effort to change the prosecutorial dynamic in Delaware."

In reference to Senate Bill 37, Marshall pointed at Michigan as a state where an expungement bill does what it needs to help curb recidivism, promote smart justice and benefit the community as a whole.

"It's very recent and we're fortunate to have this hard data in-hand as Delaware goes through this process. Michigan actually implemented an expungement bill that's very similar to the one that being proposed in Delaware. The University of Michigan School of Law was actually able to study this," Marshall said. "People who were eligible for expungement, in Michigan, were actually recidivated at a lower rate than the general public commits crimes."

 She noted that the bill is still working its way through the legislative system, but that the road to a "clean slate" and becoming that productive member of society after a record is far steeper than it needs to be.

"Right now, the only way you can get an expungement is by first going through the pardon process," she said. "Even after you've been pardoned by the governor--only then can you get expunged, but that's only for certain misdemeanors."

WDEL's jack of many trades, Kevin is a hybrid news/sports reporter and anchor. On top of being the Education reporter for your trusted source for news, Kevin is a USMC veteran, Camden County College and Temple University journalism alumni.