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Criminal Justice Experts at Regent Law Share Recommendations for Criminal Justice Reform

VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (August 27, 2020) – A professor of law and a constitutional law fellow at Regent University School of Law are working together on an ongoing study of criminal justice issues to identify aspects of the criminal justice system that are most deserving of possible reform.

The team has put forward several recommendations for further consideration, including pretrial detention reform, reassessing mandatory minimum sentencing, and ensuring that prisoners are adequately prepared to re-enter society as productive citizens.

“Public safety should always be the paramount consideration when evaluating possible reforms to our criminal justice system,” said Mark Martin, former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and dean of Regent Law. But, according to Martin, “since very few criminal defendants serve sentences of life in prison, we must also be concerned about equipping prisoners to function in society after their active sentences have been completed.”

Professor James Duane, a Regent Law professor who has taught and practiced criminal law for over 30 years, observes that “approximately 2.3 million people are incarcerated in federal, state, and local confinement facilities; and nearly 7 million are entangled in the criminal justice system through incarceration, probation, or parole.” According to Duane, “those who are released often struggle to resume their lives due to diminished employment or professional licensure opportunities as well as the challenge of finding a place to live.”

Mike Schietzelt, who focuses primarily on issues of constitutional law at Regent, previously served as a criminal justice policy researcher at the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh, North Carolina. His research focused on overcriminalization and restructuring state criminal codes. According to Schietzelt, “It’s difficult to recommend a one-size-fits-all approach to criminal justice reform. Federal, state, and local governments invariably must look to their own bodies of law to assess the extent of the problems and design solutions. But this is an issue that should not be ignored.”

He continued, “The various criminal justice systems in America are often weighed down by inattention and inertia. All levels of government should seek innovative solutions that are aligned with our founding principles. For example, pretrial detention and mandatory minimum sentencing create powerful incentives for criminal defendants to plead guilty, even if they’re innocent. This places the prosecutor – rather than the judge or the jury – in the driver’s seat. Public safety comes first, but states need to continuously reassess coercive elements and ask, ‘Is there a better way to get the job done?’”

Both major political parties have emphasized the importance of criminal justice reform during recent political conventions. At Regent Law, Duane and Schietzelt hope that a bipartisan consensus will emerge after the November elections to move forward with criminal justice reform. They cite the First Step Act, signed by President Trump in 2018, as an example of how political parties worked together to improve both public safety and outcomes for inmates.

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Regent Law’s more than 3,300 graduates practice law in 49 states and over 20 countries and include 38 currently sitting judges. The School of Law currently ranks in the top 25 percent of all law schools for obtaining judicial clerkships and ranked 20th in the nation for Ultimate Bar Passage in 2019. The school offers the Juris Doctor (J.D.) in three-year and part-time formats, an online M.A. in Law, an online M.A. in Financial Planning & Law, an on-campus and online LL.M. in Human Rights and an on-campus and online LL.M. in American Legal Studies.

Founded in 1978, Regent University has more than 11,000 students studying on its 70-acre campus in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and online around the world. The university offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from a Christian perspective in 135+ areas of study including business, communication and the arts, counseling, cybersecurity, divinity, education, government, law, leadership, nursing, healthcare and psychology. Regent University, ranked among top national universities (U.S. News & World Report, 2020), is one of only 23 universities nationally to receive an “A” rating for its comprehensive liberal arts core curriculum.