Many people are startled when they learn how civil forfeiture laws work. Such laws permit police and prosecutors to seize property — cash, cars, boats, houses, land — from people who have not been convicted of a crime. In many jurisdictions the presumption of innocence is turned on its head. That is, if an owner has had his property taken and wants to get it back, he must prove his innocence to the satisfaction of the court. There is a growing awareness of how unfair these procedures are — so reform may be coming in 2015.

There are two types of forfeiture: criminal and civil. Criminal forfeiture takes place after a person is convicted of a crime. Ill-gotten gains can then be seized by the government. Civil forfeiture laws are controversial because they empower the police to seize property in situations where there has been no conviction, or even, in some cases, an arrest.

In addition to the due process problem, civil forfeiture laws commonly allow police departments to keep the property they seize rather than deposit it in the government’s general treasury. That gives police a financial incentive to engage in predatory behavior. Instead of devoting resources to enhance public safety, police may choose to pursue assets and profits. Reporters have found cases in which homes were seized after teenagers sold pot from their front porches — unbeknownst to the parents. Federal agents seized a family owned motel after some customers were caught with drugs in one of the rooms. Highway patrols seize cash from motorists on the hunch that it is drug money.

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Pew Public Safety Performance Project - Excellent source for data-driven, fiscally sound policies and practices in the criminal and juvenile justice systems that protect public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs.

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Heritage Foundation, Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies - Excellent source for Information about overcriminalization and its impact on American society.

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CATO Institute - Libertarian perspective on criminal laws and their impact on a free society

Justice Fellowship - The criminal justice reform arm of Prison Fellowship. JF works to reform the justice system to reflect traditional principles of restorative justice.

National Reentry Resource Center - Provides education, training, and technical assistance to states, tribes, territories, local governments, service providers, non-profit organizations, and corrections institutions working on prisoner reentry.

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Sentencing Project - Works for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration.

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