This past weekend’s best editorial

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In case you missed it, be sure to check out an especially thoughtful editorial that ran yesterday in Raleigh’s News & Observer entitled “When the pandemic ends, should criminal justice return to ‘normal’? Maybe not.”

As the authors explain, the convergence of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement has served to shine a spotlight on the need for a lasting and systemic overhaul of the state’s criminal justice system.

As the essay notes, “the lowering of the criminal justice system’s usual volume has let prosecutors, law enforcement officials and lawmakers consider whether the previous levels of arrests and jailing were necessary.” And happily, some important recommendations of this kind are likely in the offing from the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice that Gov. Cooper commissioned earlier this year.

Again, the N&O editorial:

State Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat who previously served as an assistant district attorney in Durham and as a district court judge, is a member of the task force and chair of its working group on court procedures.

…Morey said she was impressed by the members’ ability to reach consensus on the need for changes after being presented with statistics on racial discrimination within the criminal justice system.

…The task force has already indicated it will recommend the decriminalization of the possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana, a charge brought disproportionately against Blacks. But Morey said the task force also will call for much broader reforms “from the beginning of the criminal process to the end — the death penalty.”

“I think it will be a very bold report,” she said. “I hope there will be recommendations to achieve real changes for racial equity.”

The pandemic has created a painful disruption in the economy and social connections. But it has also exposed inequities. Once the pandemic passes, we hope the criminal justice system can stick with and build on changes that have fostered fairness in the treatment of all who pass through the state’s courts, jails and prisons.

As the editorial and several other developments (like the ongoing “vigil for freedom and racial justice” taking place outside the Governor’s mansion right now) make clear, North Carolina has an enormous and unaddressed crisis in its criminal justice and corrections systems. Let’s hope state leaders make theses issues a top priority in 2021.

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