Increasingly harsh criminal justice policies over the last three decades have resulted in a system that thrives on over-criminalization, mass incarceration, and racial injustice. Instead of ensuring public safety, the war on drugs has led to unconstitutional police practices, unfair and inconsistent sentencing, and abuses of authority which only harm, rather than help, the public, and extremely disproportionately affect minorities.

Nationally, the ACLU's Smart Justice movement has saught to orchestrate national reforms to the “front end” of the criminal justice system from policing to sentencing. This includes putting an end to racially motivated policing and sentencing, increasing government accountability and transparency, and reversing the shift toward excessive incarceration.

What are we doing about it?

The ACLU of Kansas legal department has worked consistently to defend the constitutional rights of Kansans who are incarcerated or otherwise involved with the criminal legal system. We also work in the legislature to advocate for policies that increase police transparency, balance the three branches of government, and protect the integrity and independence of the judiciary system. The ACLU is partnering with other organizations in Kansans for Smart Justice, an unprecedented and diverse coalition to bring common-sense reform to the states' justice system.

A primary focus for our Smart Justice work is fines and fees. The justice system imposes fines and fees on youth from their first interaction with law enforcement to the final outcome of their case. These financial burdens are imposed on young children, youth entering early adulthood, and sometimes directly on their parents—with the burden often falling on whole families. Many families go into debt trying to pay. Others must choose between paying court debt or basic necessities like rent and groceries. Often, the money is simply not there to be collected—resulting in a system of punishment without a purpose. In partnership with Kansas Appleseed, Progeny, and the Juvenile Law Center, the ACLU of Kansas developed a bill to eliminate fines and fees for juveniles in the criminal-legal system. The ACLU-KS advocacy team will work to introduce this bill during the 2022 Kansas legislative session.