In my 34 years with the Baltimore and Maryland State Police, I was on the front lines learning what works – and what doesn’t – about our criminal justice system, wanting to make it better. Today I ask my fellow police, prosecutors, judges, and corrections officials who feel the same to join me in the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, the voice of law enforcement professionals trying to make this country a safer place through effective solutions to our criminal justice issues.
When you care about something, you want it to be the best it can be. Criminal justice professionals know that with the right reforms, we can do better, for ourselves and for our communities. We can stop wasting time on problems that shouldn’t be criminal justice issues, free up law enforcement to focus on the most serious crimes, build trust between the police and community, and make our communities safer.
Let’s start by removing folks who need to be dealt with outside the criminal justice system. Any criminal justice professional can tell you that when someone disturbs the peace because they’re mentally ill or addicted to drugs, simply arresting and jailing them doesn’t work. We need to hold them accountable for crimes– this isn’t about making excuses –but holding them accountable doesn’t mean just cycling them through the system one more time. It means dealing with the root issues behind their behavior. Removing these low-risk offenders from our overburdened squad cars, jails, and courts will allow us to focus on the dangerous individuals we need to get off the streets.
Cities from Baltimore, Maryland to Fayetteville, North Carolina and Huntington, West Virginia are addressing this problem with Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. LEAD allows police to divert those in need of treatment from jail to a case manager who stays with them as they tackle their root issues. As some of our speakers can tell you from their experience as prosecutors and police officers, LEAD programs reduce recidivism, felony crime, homelessness, and unemployment, while improving citizen perceptions of the police.
Next, let’s restore the power of judges to decide fair sentences, a constitutional role that has been overtaken by legislators who mandate sentences so long they’re counterproductive. Instead of reducing crime, mandatory minimum sentences and Three Strikes Laws actually make us less safe because they waste prison beds on low-risk offenders, strengthen prison gangs, and separate children from their parents. Even crime victims agree that the ultimate goal of the criminal justice system should be to prevent future crime – and in that we’re failing.
Most Americans have heard that we incarcerate more than two million people, but not that we have more than double that number on probation and parole. That means almost 3% of the adult population, struggling to find a job and an apartment with a criminal record, is also subject to requirements that can and do send them back to prison for minor mistakes. Almost everyone violates the conditions at some point by missing an appointment due to work, spending time with other felons, traveling to visit family, failing a drug test, or falling behind on probation fees. As this revolving door spins, it costs us more than one trillion dollars every year just to put Americans behind bars.
That’s why I’m proud to launch the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, giving criminal justice professionals a voice to call for solutions. This nonprofit has evolved from the former Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of criminal justice professionals dedicated to ending the War on Drugs. While ending that destructive policy will always be a central goal, we can’t stop there when our speakers have seen so many other urgent opportunities for reform.
For every judge forced to hand down ineffective sentences, for every prosecutor frustrated by the revolving door for low-risk offenders, and for my fellow officers saddened when they confront community distrust and hostility, this is our chance to do the criminal justice system the highest honor by making it work better. Please join me.
Learn more at www.LawEnforcementActionPartnership.org.
Major Neill Franklin (Ret.) is a 34-year veteran of the Baltimore and Maryland State Police Departments. He is Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, which mobilizes criminal justice professionals to speak out in favor of effective solutions to public safety issues.