The Ten Most Significant Criminal Justice Stories of 2011

Via The Crime Report
What we want to celebrate and take note of—more than anything else—are developments in criminal justice policy, practice and theory that challenge preconceptions and break new ground; and that are worth following up in 2012.

Lists are inevitably subjective. Your list may be different from ours—and that’s fine. We want to hear your comments, suggestions, ideas—and criticism.

Some of our choices cover ideas and approaches begun years before–but for one reason or another showed special promise or produced interesting and replicable results in 2011. Many of the programs that attracted headlines or commentary this year in fact had their roots in the paradigm-busting ideas of a few hardy thinkers as much as a decade ago.

The usual critique is that change in our criminal justice systems happens, for the most part, grudgingly.

But it can happen. Below are some examples that prove the point.

One final note, which we can’t over-emphasize: this list includes notable accomplishments on both the left and the right of the spectrum: we honor both the Right on Crime movement begun by conservatives and new civil rights activism by Eric Holder’s Justice Department—underlining The Crime Report’s rigorous non-partisanship.


1.Right on Crime

Corrections spending has expanded to become the second fastest growing area of state budgets—railing only Medicaid. So in one of the most surprising developments of 2011, a group of conservative thinkers decided to do something about it. In just a little more than one year since the group, Right on Crime, has been formed, it has gathered an impressive list of national signatories, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Edwin Meese and current GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

Their priorities this year have included: fighting over-criminalization, consolidating partly empty prisons and prison diversion programs, among others.

Props to Right on Crime for working on the underlying issues of criminal justice reform and not just calling for more tough-on-crime measures.

Cara Tabachnick

2.Eyewitness ID

Concerns about the reliability of eyewitness identification have preoccupied legal experts for decades. On August 24, the New Jersey Supreme Court provided a major impetus towards changing the way eyewitness evidence is used in criminal cases, with a ruling that provides judges with a new set of ground rules. Citing a “troubling lack of reliability” in such evidence, Chief Justice Stuart J. Rabner, writing for the majority, declared, “From social science research to the review of actual police lineups, from laboratory experiments to DNA exonerations, the record proves that the possibility of mistaken identification is real.”

New Jersey judges from now on must look at nearly a dozen factors that could affect credibility, ranging from how long a time the witness observed the event to whether the witness was identifying someone of a different race. Although the ruling applies only in New Jersey, the national impact could be significant. In November, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the issue (for the first time since 1977). A ruling is expected by next spring. However the ruling goes, longtime advocates of re-thinking eyewitness identification such as the Innocence Project believe that the New Jersey ruling was a landmark step towards accepting scientific research that shows memories are as subject to “contamination’ as any physical evidence.

“Human memory does not operate as a videotape,” wrote TCR blogger and forensic expert James Doyle this year. “It is not stored in a reliable state and available for replay when needed.Specific memories are easy to contaminate, and the contamination (when it occurs) is hard to identify.”

—Stephen Handelman

Continue reading…..


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