Last week, artist Meek Mill pinned an op-ed to the New York times about Criminal Justice Reform in the United States.
In the essay, the rapper recalls his history with law enforcement and the saga surrounding his most recent offense. Many people who are incarcerated in this country are stripped of basic rights while in custody. Despite his fame, Meek was no different.
Like many who are currently incarcerated, I was the victim of a miscarriage of justice — carried out by an untruthful officer, as determined by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, and an unfair judge.
After reading his opinion piece, I went back to the results of the 2018 Midterm Elections. For many people (like myself) it’s easy to see the elections as a loss for democracy and equality. But when looking at the results through the criminal justice lens-there’s a glimmer of hope.
Voters in Louisiana approved Amendment 2 with nearly two-thirds of the vote.
The ballot initiative killed a racist law that allowed split juries to convict people of felonies. As Vox noted, the state’s decision to allow non-unanimous jury convictions was a way to get around the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s requirement to include Black people on juries. By requiring only 10 out of 12 jurors to convict someone of a felony, the state reduced the power of Black people on juries. More than 40 percent of all those who have been recently exonerated of crimes in Louisiana were found guilty by non-unanimous juries.
Florida voters passed Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment that restores the voting rights to most people convicted of felonies after they complete the full terms of their sentences. The initiative needed 60 percent to pass. It received approximately 65 percent. Roughly 1.4 million people had their voting rights restored. It is the single biggest expansion of voting rights since the passage of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 years old in 1971. With its passage, Floridians cast aside a leftover vestige of southern lawmakers’ attempts to suppress Black political power in the wake of passing the 15th Amendment, which granted African-Americans the right to vote.
Voters also approved Amendment 11, the heart of which repeals a constitutional provision that prohibits lawmakers from amending criminal statutes to apply retroactively. This was an incredibly important win in the fight against mass incarceration. Now the Florida Legislature has the power to lower mandatory minimum sentencing laws and have them apply to people who are already serving harsh sentences. Lawmakers and criminal justice reform activists now have another tool to decrease the amount of people incarcerated in the state.
Voters, in Colorado passed Amendment A, which officially ended the state’s ability to extract labor from people inside its prisons’ walls without pay. Colorado is now one of the only states in the nation that forbids prison labor without pay.
Since 2005, police in Washington state have killed over 300 people. Yet only one officer in all of these homicides has been charged with unjustifiably killing someone while on duty. He was acquitted. Luckily, Initiative 940, or I-940 was passed with 60 percent of the vote.The initiative changes the “malice” standard to one of what a “reasonable” officer would do in a similar situation. I-940, however, didn’t just change the legal standard for police use-of-force incidents. It also requires independent investigations of serious police violence as well as de-escalation and mental health training for police.
Michigan legalized marijuana by a margin of 56 to 44 percent. With the passage of Proposal 1, the state will legalize, tax, and regulate adult use of marijuana, with the tax revenues of marijuana sales going to the state’s public schools, transportation funds, and local communities.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? Proposal 1’s passage removes one tool the state used to criminalize behavior that should be legal. In 2016, police in the state made nearly 23,500 arrests for marijuana. Black Michiganders were disproportionately targeted. Police arrest Black Michiganders at a rate 2.6 times higher than whites, despite similar marijuana usage rates.
There’s still so much work to be done!! In Ohio, Issue 1 would have put a massive dent in the addiction-to-prison pipeline while reducing the state prison population by 20 percent, saving taxpayers more than $100 million per year- voters rejected it. Basically, would have turned fourth- and fifth-degree felony drug possession offenses into misdemeanors, stopped the flow of Ohioans entering prison for technical parole violations, and expanded opportunities for early release for people who participated in rehabilitative or educational programs.
I hope this breakdown was helpful ad useful! If I missed any major amendments or propositions please email firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know!