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Why criminal justice reform is gaining bipartisan support


Criminal justice reform is steadily progressing in the United States and in Washington state. One local criminal justice expert says there is a good reason why — jail is expensive.

The First Step Act has achieved bipartisan approval in Washington DC, and is expected to get the thumbs up from the president as well. Among the range of changes to the prison system is de-escalation training for officers. The First Step Act applies to federal prisoners (about 200,000). But there are more than 2 million people incarcerated in America.

The First Step Act comes on the heels of Washington voters passing Initiative 940, which also deals with de-escalation training for state law enforcement.

Washington State University Professor David Makin specializes in criminal justice, he says there is a common thread between the national and state conversations around the issue.

“In many ways, being tough on crime kind of runs against being fiscally conservative,” Makin told Seattle’s Morning News on KIRO Radio. “Prisons are exceedingly costly. There are better and more cost-effective ways of dealing with crimes. I think what you are seeing is many are realizing that reality. We can both be tough and fiscally conservative.”

“No pun intended, it really is a first step,” he said. “It really demonstrates that the federal government sees this as problematic. And we are seeing states realize they cannot afford mass incarceration. And there are more effective ways to handle the problem.”

Makin points to Washington Initiative 940 as one example that states are trying to find ways around mass incarceration. Voters passed the initiative 60-40. It addresses police training, use-of-force, and how the courts treat officer-involved shootings. It changed the malice standard that Washington previously used when prosecuting police officers for fatal shootings.

“In Washington, we saw some issues with how police were interacting with different groups,” Makin said. “Having training that is evaluated for being effective … puts us in a better state.”

“What we are doing is recognizing we need to rebuild trust, and focus on better training that helps deescalate confrontations,” he said. “…. when you look at much of the training we give officers, it is rarely evaluated in the field … with I-940, it gives us the opportunity to be on the precipice of police training that we hope to apply across the nation.”

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