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Criminal justice reform bills signed, advancing state lawmakers' goals

Lawmakers gather outside the Carvel State Office Building in Wilmington for the bill signing
Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media
Lawmakers gather outside the Carvel State Office Building in Wilmington for the bill signing

Gov. John Carney signed a stack of bills advancing criminal justice reform in the First State.

All of the bills signed by Carney Monday were part of the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus’ Justice for All Agenda, announced last year in response to calls for further racial justice reforms.

These bills are all aimed at fixing inequalities in the criminal justice system, and many seek to give former criminals a second chance.

Many of the reforms are aimed at kids, and ensuring getting convicted at a young age doesn’t sentence you to a life of crime.

“They do have the potential to become successful adults, and it’s our moral obligation to work with those children to help them get there — because what we do know and history has shown, data has shown that children can outgrow criminal behavior,” State Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown (D-New Castle South), who sponsored legislation awarding grants that go towards reducing the chance a young adult will continue to commit crime after they’re released.

Minor-Brown notes the re-offending rate among the most violent youth criminals is over 80 percent, and says that’s unacceptable.

Other bills include an expansion of automatic and mandatory expungement of criminal records, known as the Clean Slate Act.

“There’s never been a better time to employ ex-offenders because we have so many job openings across our state and not nearly enough people seeking work," says Carney.

Clean Slate’s primary sponsor, State Sen. Darius Brown (D-Wilmington) adds, first and foremost, there are jobs bills, and will help over 200,000 Delawareans improve their chances of getting a good-paying job.

Carney says when he was on the Board of Pardons as Lieutenant governor, it was very rare to see someone get their criminal record wiped clean.

And Carney also signed two other pieces of legislation, including a bill requiring the recording of all custodial interrogations, situations where someone is under arrest, which lawmakers say protects both the police and the offenders.

While most of these bills passed unanimously by lawmakers, one received more pushback from Republican lawmakers. State Sen. Marie Pinkney’s bill expands the responsibilities of the Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust to investigate all cases where the use of force also led to serious physical injury, not just death.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

This story has been updated to reflect an error in attribution. Gov. Carney was the one who spoke about hiring ex-offenders, not Sen. Brown.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.