Focusing on Justice
The Facts: About 76% of former prisoners are rearrested for a serious offense within three years of release from a Delaware secure facility.2
The overall Level V prison population has been decreasing since 2013.1 Still, about 76% of former prisoners are rearrested for a serious offense within three years of release from a Delaware secure facility.2 African Americans represent 22% of the state’s general population, 42% of arrestees, 42% of criminal dispositions, 51% of incarceration, and 57% of Delaware’s incarcerated population.3
At times, we have tried to incarcerate ourselves to safety, a tactic that was costly and deepened some of the long-term factors driving crime rates. As the costs of prisons have grown, we have sometimes found ourselves in the perverse position of only being able to afford education, treatment and job training to those incarcerated, because the cost of the overall system limits our ability to fund community-based approaches that might be more cost-effective and do less harm to the families of defendants. Due to cost pressures, decisions involving millions of dollars are often made with less than ideal information, as we do not have the information systems and analytical staff that would help make better decisions.
To make positive reforms, it is essential that the system—police, corrections, youth rehabilitation, treatment and vocational providers, prosecutors, defense counsel, judges, and the information professionals who are vital to everyone—come together to make decisions.
Opportunity and Scope
This is an opportunity to resolve long-standing issues and inefficiencies by being more collaborative. Projects should primarily focus on areas that would improve multiple agencies and find savings and/or efficiencies in the system. There is potential for many additional projects once the committee gets together and shares ideas, but some initial thoughts might include the following:
Improve Technology and Data Sharing
- Making the format and content of sentencing order consistent, easy to understand and clear.
- Implementing an e-filing system for criminal cases.
- Improving processes, communication and data sharing, so that future criminal justice policy can be data driven.
- Eliminate wasteful and unnecessary processes using modern technology.
- Increasing the capacity of the Statistical Analysis Center and the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System.
Simplify and Make Statutes More Cohesive
- Support the General Assembly’s Criminal Justice Improvement Committee (CJIC) to eliminate the redundancies, inconsistencies, and disproportionality that have arisen in two generations since Delaware adopted a criminal code based on best practices.
- Work with the General Assembly and the CJIC to modernize the Pretrial system.
Give Offenders a Better Chance to Succeed
- Implement policy to reduce debt burden on ex-offenders as they reenter society so that offenders can focus on finding stable employment and housing, and make it more possible for them to pay other obligations such as child support.
- Develop a much-needed Wilmington Community Court to focus on community partnerships and connections to the judicial system and provide resources to litigants.
- Review drug treatment policies and resources for effectiveness.
The Means to Make Progress
- Use the three-year-old partnership with the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics to develop and implement the identified priorities using continuous process improvement.
- Take advantage of another aspect of the Judiciary’s relationship with the University of Delaware, which allows the Judiciary to employ extra research capacity through the Judicial Fellowship program with the Institute for Public Administration.
1 Delaware Department of Correction, Annual Report 2016
2 Statistical Analysis Center, “Recidivism in Delaware: An Analysis of Prisoners Released in 2010 through 2012” (November 2016)
3 John M. MacDonald, Ph.D. and Ellen A. Donnelly, Ph.D., “Evaluating the Role of Race in Criminal Justice Adjudications in Delaware” (University of Pennsylvania, September 19, 2016)
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