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Some States, Cities Reverse Criminal Justice Reforms

Less than four years after George Floyd's murder prompted a mass awakening to the inequities of the criminal justice system, politicians are returning to a tough-on-crime approach. In some cases, voters and lawmakers are opting to reverse reforms passed years ago.

San Francisco voted last week for two propositions that give more power to police and require addiction treatment as a condition for welfare assistance. D.C. Council members passed a package of public safety measures, including bringing back "drug-free zones." The votes follow movements to roll back reforms in Louisiana and Oregon, reports USA Today.

"It's a stunning turnabout, especially so soon after the wave of national protests against the system for being too harsh," says Adam Gelb of the nonpartisan think tank Council on Criminal Justice.

Though it may seem as if the nation is headed back to punitive policies, Gelb said, "I think there's very little chance that we return fully to the notion that we can arrest and punish our way to safety."

Gelb said the pattern like a pendulum swinging between restriction and reform started as early as the 1960s when a wave of reform led into a spike in crime in the 70s. The 80s brought in the crack crisis and a "get tough era," Gelb said. Over the next three decades, mandatory sentencing, a boom in prison development and harsher drug enforcement tactics led to a ballooning in the prison population.

The Pew Trust reported that more than 30 states passed laws between 2007 and 2017 to reduce prison populations.

in Oregon, the House passed a bill repealing part of Measure 110, a 2020 voter-approved measure to decriminalize drug possession. Critics of the new bill say the state's criminal justice system is already overwhelmed, and recriminalizing would disproportionally affect Blacks and Latinos,, the Statesman Journal reported.

In Tennessee, after Tyre Nichols was fatally beaten last year after being pulled over by Memphis Police, the city passed the Tyre Nichols Driving Equality Act, barring officers from conducting certain traffic stops for low-level violations, among other measures.

State lawmakers are advancing legislation that would nullify the Memphis law.

The measure is part of a groundswell of legislative and voter pushback against reforms initiated over the past four years after the police killings of Black Americans including Nichols, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

Each killing stunned Americans and inspired activism, rioting and a racial reckoning that translated into hundreds of bills aimed at curtailing law enforcement powers and reshaping how police do their jobs, reports the Washington Post.

In some cases, lawmakers and voters say those changes needed to be fine-tuned to work well. In others, they are trying to address community backlash at measures that have been labeled anti-police, as well as a perception that crime has worsened while police have been hamstrung by policy changes.

Florida lawmakers are considerfing a bill that would ban civilian-run police review boards. Louisiana legislators voted for a law that would make it harder to sue police officers; cities including Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles, have restored police funding that was cut after Floyd was killed.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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