Activists who have lobbied to curb the excesses of a highly punitive system hope the resulting glow will help advance their agenda, which includes measures such as banning arrest warrants, releasing disciplinary records of the police and the review of long sentences for minors.
They also hope voters distinguish between calls to “defund the police,” which Republicans have used to vigorously attack Democrats, and bipartisan efforts to improve accountability and fairness. Mr Trump kept the two issues separate, relentlessly attacking Democrats for what he said was their inability to support law enforcement, while running a Super Bowl commercial about a woman he shot to proof of leniency.
“I actually think the winning argument was that you can be for law and order, and you can be for a second chance,” said Holly Harris, executive director of the Justice Action Network, a non-advocacy group. partisan. “You can support the police and also think that the punishment should match the crime.”
This nuance does not always play with voters. In Georgia, Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican, trashed her Republican opponent, Representative Doug Collins, for his support for criminal justice reform, prompting him to take on Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock in a runoff.
But apart from bitter political struggles, criminal justice reform offers something for just about everyone: social justice crusaders who point out gaping racial disparities, fiscal conservatives who denounce the extravagant cost of incarceration, libertarians who think the government has criminalized too many aspects of life; and Christian groups who see virtue in mercy and redemption.
At the federal level, both parties have proposed bills on police accountability. Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, recently signaled that he was ready to restore parole for federal prisoners, which was eliminated during the 1980s. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has promised reduce incarceration and support the abolition of mandatory minimum sentences and the expansion of mental health and drug treatment.
Relatively few voters ranked the criminal justice system high on their list of concerns, even after the murder of George Floyd in May that put police in the national spotlight.