Attorney General William Barr, in a 10-page memo, argued against getting more involved with California's government outside of the court.

By Matt Stucker - Florida Today | Published Jan 21, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) - In the first five years since Florida adopted a plan to reduce the state's prison population, violent crime has dropped by 19 percent and overall crime has fallen by 19 percent.

But law enforcement advocates fear that the gains made under that plan -- and similar ones in other states -- are reversible. In their opinion paper, the preeminent inmates rights group in the United States -- the Southern Center for Human Rights -- said those states saw their statistics increase after their laws were implemented.

These statistics are intended to be used as justification for trying to make changes to the criminal justice system. While there is much debate about the accuracy of these numbers, one thing is clear: America's prisons are becoming more crowded.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that in 2018, the nation was incarcerating more people than at any time in history. In 2015, there were 2.3 million inmates in federal, state and local facilities in the United States.

Here are seven recommendations from the inmates rights group, Legal Aid Justice Center, which on Thursday released its "Final Report on the New Arizona Corrections Law," to reform America's prison system.

1. Take prison construction out of the hands of the states

Incarceration should be driven primarily by the threat and harm people commit against others, said James Sisk, a visiting professor at the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, in one of the main arguments in the report.

The last policy made by the US Supreme Court was from 1985, when the justices issued a ruling that said states must reduce their prison populations if they were to save money and the security of their facilities.

But at the end of their 37-year-rule, the justices again told states they have the flexibility to set their own standards for sentencing. Sisk said that flexibility is being short-circuited.

"What we're seeing is almost uniformly the states have failed to abide by either their own mandatory minimums or their own sentence reductions for juveniles," Sisk said. "And now, they're either trying to push through even more draconian legislation, like mandatory sentencing enhancements in these states or their governors are trying to enact more draconian bills that bring more mandatory minimums and so-called get tough sentencing. There are bills before legislatures across the country that are increasing sentencing minimums and increasing mandatory sentences for juveniles."

2. Relax mandatory minimum sentencing

Sisk, and others, say that, "overly harsh mandatory minimums," limit the discretion of prosecutors, increase the potential for racial disparity in punishment and undermine the sentencing process.

Other proposals include reducing penalties for certain nonviolent drug offenders and letting people with intellectual disabilities who committed violent crimes serve half their sentences as opposed to the current decade.

3. Take drunk driving out of the hands of police

"When arrests are based on subjective suspicion and an officer's personal beliefs, then more arrests will be made and the chances of conviction will increase," said Bill Miller, the executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Institute, in one of the main arguments in the report.

The group recommends taking away police officers' ability to draw blood and giving people a breathalyzer test in lieu of a blood test.

"The Constitution is supposed to protect people, not take away their rights, so for prosecutors to say that you have the constitutional right to a blood test... that's not appropriate," Sisk said.

4. Give police more discretion

"For law enforcement to be able to use discretion against more nonviolent offenses means that they have no reason to believe an otherwise heavily convictable suspect is a violent criminal," Sisk said.

To be sure, the report does not advocate replacing police officers with less-informed civilians.

"We are sympathetic to our law enforcement officers and recognize that those people -- officers -- don't have a lot of experience and knowledge," Sisk said. "We're not suggesting that in criminal justice and crime to dismantle law enforcement."

5. Give parents of violent offenders more say

Many states don't require family members to ask the courts for a non-criminal protective order in cases of domestic violence, rape or sexual assault. The Legal Aid Justice Center recommends that courts provide more risk management services to the offenders' family members, including psychological services, peer counselling and medical services, which are not currently mandated for family members of violent offenders.

6. Allow post-release supervision and prevent parole revocation

In Florida, post-release supervision reduces recidivism, the Legal Aid Justice Center said.

But California recently allowed, for the first time, probationary supervision for non-violent offenders, something experts warned would