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Excerpts from the Pew Report

Criminal Justice Reform Won Big in the Election

More than a dozen public safety measures were approved across several states, including reforms to reduce the number of people in jails and prisons for low-level drug offenses.

Among the biggest victories was the passage of Proposition 17 in California, which allows about 50,000 people on state parole to vote after completing their prison sentences. Advocates say the change will reduce recidivism, expand democracy and inject more fairness into the justice system.

In another momentous change, New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota and Montana voted to legalize recreational marijuana, and Oregon became the first state to decriminalize small amounts of cocaine, heroin and other drugs. The new drug reform laws, supporters say, will reduce the number of people sitting in jails and prisons for low-level drug offenses.

Pushes for more police accountability were successful in San Francisco and San Diego, where voters said yes to creating commissions to oversee local law enforcement departments. Meanwhile, voters in Pittsburgh, Portland, Ore. and Columbus, Ohio favored measures that would create or expand civilian-run police oversight boards.

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Look to Corrections Reforms for Guidance in Policing Changes

Since 2007, more than 30 states have undertaken data-driven, evidence-backed reforms to their criminal justice systems that sought to reduce correctional populations, capture savings, and shift money into public safety strategies that offer better returns on investment. States undertaking well-informed justice reform start from a foundation of good data about core population and cost drivers of their systems, and selectively focus their efforts. The ability to empirically diagnose points of dysfunction lets reformers craft responsive policies.

Reforms should not create unfunded mandates by removing money from an agency without changing responsibilities. Effective changes have specified where corrections departments would be expected to do less, rather than risk poorer performance by reducing funding with no altering of duties. Explicit statutory language that protects reinvestment and ensures that dollars are routed to community-based programming helps cement reforms.

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