The members of the Delaware General Assembly and Attorney General Kathleen Jennings announced an expansive package of bills March 14 that aims to slow the problem of over-incarceration in Delaware and promote more fairness in the criminal justice system.

The ACLU of Delaware prepared and released two statements in response.

“Delaware has a mass incarceration problem. The U.S. incarcerates people at a rate higher than any other nation, and Delaware's incarceration rate is higher than the national average and higher than any of its neighboring mid-Atlantic states. We are locking people up at a rate more than double what we did 30 years ago, and it hasn't made our communities safer — in some cases, mass incarceration has actually had a devastating effect on our communities. Our prisons are operating beyond their design capacity and the costs of maintaining the corrections system continue to balloon,” said ACLU-DE Staff Attorney and Policy Counsel Karen Lantz.

“Our criminal justice system falls particularly harshly on people of color and the poor. African-Americans make up only 23 percent of Delaware's population, but 60 percent of its prison population. Cash bail and excessive fines and fees are destroying the lives of people who cannot afford to pay them. In 2017, Delaware issued over 40,000 warrants for the arrest of Delawareans who owed on average less than 500 dollars related to misdemeanor offenses,” said Lantz.

“It is time to re-examine the laws and policies that brought us here. Mass incarceration has been the result of a series of choices that we, as a society, have made over the last 30 years, and it's time to make different choices,” said Lantz.

“Instead of focusing solely on punishment and incarceration, our criminal justice system should be keeping communities safe, treating people fairly and using our fiscal resources wisely. This package of reform bills announced by the General Assembly today will help Delaware make important progress toward that goal,” said Lantz.

“The ACLU of Delaware commends our legislative leaders and attorney general for putting time, careful thought and effort into confronting inequities and reevaluating our approach to crime, punishment, rehabilitation and second chances. The ACLU of Delaware and the Delaware Coalition for Smart Justice look forward to working closely with our elected officials — in both parties — to advance these bills and move Delaware towards a more fair, equitable and smarter criminal justice system,” said Lantz.

Dubard McGriff, ACLU-DE organizer for the Campaign for Smart Justice, also issued a statement, saying, “The goal of the Campaign for Smart Justice to reduce Delaware’s prison population in half and challenge racial bias in the system is major, but absolutely necessary.”

“When someone goes to prison, the individual, the entire family and the whole community are impacted. Nationally, one out of every 28 children of all races has a parent in prison, but one out of every nine black children are missing a father or mother due to incarceration,” said McGriff.

“This must change and the steps being taken here today by legislative leaders and the attorney general will help us begin to move in a more positive direction,” said McGriff.