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State task force releases 125 recommendations for criminal justice reform

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There are 125 total recommendations -- a number of them center around police reform.

The North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice has released its final report to Governor Roy Cooper. The recommended solutions aim to increase racial equity and accountability in the state’s criminal justice system.

The task force was formed this past June, in light of the death of George Floyd. Co-chair Attorney General Josh Stein, along with co-chair and Associate Justice Anita Earls, announced the group’s final report.

“The inequities that African-Americans experience, whether it's in the economy, healthcare, our schools, or the criminal justice system are pervasive. They are damaging and they're wrong.”

There are 125 total recommendations. A number of them center around police reform, and include things like increasing law enforcement training, and reimagining how situations concerning mental illness are addressed.  Increasing police accountability is also highlighted -- with potential solutions like citizen oversight boards, and a better examination of use of force incidents.

Other recommendations involve the funding and development of community grassroots programs. Decriminalization of marijuana is included, as well as eliminating class bail for certain misdemeanors, and reclassifying some misdemeanors that do not impact public safety.

The Task Force aims to work with lawmakers over the next two years to enact policy change on federal, state and local levels.

Public Safety

Some recommendations include:

  • Respond more appropriately to situations concerning mental illness, autism, intellectual disabilities, substance abuse, homelessness, and other nonemergency situations
  • Fund grassroots organizations that employ promising and peaceful strategies to help communities promote public safety

Police Reform

Some recommendations include:

  • Encourage or require officers to spend non-enforcement time, or live in the neighborhoods they serve
  • Publicly acknowledge mistakes by law enforcement to build trust and transparency
  • Use data and objective criteria, instead of officers’ subjective perceptions and beliefs, to drive the level of police presence in neighborhoods
  • Deemphasize felony drug posession arrests for trace quantities under .25 grams
  • Treat addiction as a public health crisis, including substance use addictions that disproportionately impact Black and brown communities
  • Encourage citations and summons in lieu of arrest whenever possible
  • Fund school personnel training on mental health, first aid, cultural competence/diversity/inclusion, and developmental disability
  • Change entry by force statute to require the necessary probable cause be specifically listed in the warrant before breaking and entering to execute a warrant, and to clarify the meaning of unreasonably delay after an officer announces presence in the execution of a search warrant
  • Commission a study on racial disparities in how protests and demonstrations are policed in North Carolina
  • Strengthen use of force practices including to prohibit neck holds and require the use of the minimum amount of force necessary

Police Accountability

Some recommendations include:

  • Revise standards to require that officers not engage in excessive or unjustified use of force or abuse the power of the position
  • Expand authority to allow for suspension, revocation, or denial of certification based upon an officer’s excessive use of force or abuse of power
  • Support psychological screenings for all law enforcement officers
  • Increase transparency about officer discipline and decertification through a publicly available database
  • Mandatory body worn cameras for all law enforcement agencies
  • Provide citizen oversight boards and local government governing bodies access to law enforcement recordings

The Court System

Some recommendations include:

  • Replace juvenile life without parole with life with parole sentences and parole eligibility after twenty-five years for first degree murder convictions
  • Deprioritize marijuana-related arrests and prosecution
  • Decriminalize the possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana
  • Convene a task force of stakeholders to study the pros and cons and options for legalization of possession, cultivation and/or sale of marijuana
  • Reclassify Class III misdemeanors that do not impact public safety
  • Enact legislation with a sunset provision for all local ordinance crimes that criminalize poverty or behavior in public places
  • Eliminate cash bail for Class I, II, and III misdemeanors unless risk to public safety
  • Study and adopt evidence based reforms for reducing and eventually eliminating racial disparities in charging decisions and prosecutorial outcomes
  • Increase representation of North Carolinians serving on juries through expanded and more frequent sourcing, data transparency, and compensation

Post-Conviction Reforms

Some recommendations include: 

  • Reinstate the Racial Justice Act for individuals sentenced to death
  • Increase funding for mental health services and programs in prisons
  • Expand voting rights to those on probation, parole, or post-release supervision for a felony conviction

Read the full list of recommendations here.