Delaware’s Attorney General Kathy Jennings has announced her first major step since being sworn in to the position earlier this year. AG Jennings has unveiled internal reform measures for criminal prosecution that her office says will divert low level offenders and shift focus toward more violent crime.
The Department of Justice says the guidelines laid out in Jennings’ memo include deemphasizing cash bail for routine misdemeanors, avoiding “unjust stacking” of minimum mandatory sentences, address the opioid epidemic by relying on mental health and drug treatment needs before prison sentences, alternatives to prosecution for low-level offenses like possession of marijuana and prostitution and shorter sentencing recommendations. The memo also recommends alternatives to prison that take into account public safety such as house arrest, opposition to warrants and driving license revocation for the failure to pay fines, consideration of collateral consequences for undocumented victims and witnesses, discouraging trying children as adults except when necessary, support for expungements for crimes that are now legal, and the support for pardons for isolated, non-violent comes.
The AG’s office says Jennings’ recommendations are presumptive guidelines and that prosecutors will be able to seek exceptions to policies dependent on the individual facts and circumstances of the case.
Governor John Carney reacted to the reform measures saying “We have a responsibility to make sure Delaware’s criminal justice system is fair to all Delawareans.” He continued “I want to thank Attorney General Kathy Jennings for her leadership on this issue.” Policy Director for the Delaware Center for Justice Kate Parker said the announcement makes important progress: “These guidelines push us towards a safer, fairer, more effective legal system one where the race and gender of the defendant or victim or the amount of money they have in their pockets will no longer predict court outcomes.”