Delaware is among the states that have confronted issues with their criminal justice system in recent years. As he entered office in 2009, Governor Jack Markell faced the problem of serious prison overcrowding in the state, but he did not think that constructing more prisons was the answer.
In response to this issue and others, Markell proposed a reform package that successfully passed the Delaware legislature and that he subsequently signed into law in the summer of 2014. The reform package focused on the need for sentencing reform and increased opportunities for ex-offenders to successfully re-enter society. By reducing the collateral consequences associated with a criminal conviction and relaxing certain restrictions on public employment of felons, Delaware took a bold step to address the widely recognized problems of mass incarceration and endemic recidivism.
Markell considers the 2014 reforms to be a more thoughtful approach to criminal justice. They created a new focus for sentencing and parole, requiring a consideration of both the risk a given criminal poses to society and the needs that criminal will have following a period of incarceration. During his keynote address, Markell also announced further intended reforms regarding bail processes and the ability of pretrial detainees to still see their families and remain a part of their community until being convicted of a crime.
Additionally, Markell emphasized the clear gains to society that can come from bipartisan solutions to current problems with our criminal justice system, noting that the need for reform is nationwide and providing a clear call to action for all summit attendees to take the lessons learned here and apply them in their own spheres.
The public cultural shift on these issues is real, Markell stressed, and it presents a unique opportunity for reform that should be seized while it exists.