The Smart on Crime Coalition has issued an ambitious, comprehensive set of reform proposals addressed to Congress and the Obama Administration. The report is here. The Coalition describes itself this way:
The Coalition is comprised of more than 40 organizations and individuals, who participated in developing policy recommendations across 16 broad issue areas.
These organizations and individuals represent the leading voices in criminal justice policy. Coalition members focus their efforts on such diverse and varied areas as combating unnecessary expansions of criminal law, advocating for improvements to investigatory and forensic science standards, ensuring that persons accused of crimes have an opportunity to receive a fair trial, helping persons who have served their sentences successfully reenter their communities, and protecting the rights and dignity of victims of crime.
Nearly all of the specific reform proposals strike me as quite sensible. My main reservation is with the extent to which these proposals contemplate an expansion of the federal role in overseeing national criminal-justice policy. Although the particular activities contemplated for the feds seem benign enough (e.g., increasing federal financial support for state indigent defense, creating and enforcing national standards for the protection of juvenile detainees from sexual victimization, and establishing a national commission on restorative justice in order to support restorative approaches at the state and local level), there is an argument to be made that it is dangerous to create further precedent for expansion of the federal role; as a number of scholars have argued, the politics of crime and punishment seem especially pernicious at the federal level (compare federal and state sentencing laws, for instance). Even a funding program can cause problems in the future if ill-advised conditions are added. This is, of course, how Congress spurred the adoption of state truth-in-sentencing laws in the 1990s — by conditioning grant eligibility on sentencing reform.