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What the Feds Can Do to Rein in Local Mercenary Criminal Justice

Although physical and psychological harms caused by local police are the most common bases for federal intervention and reform efforts, this Article focuses on the financial harms local police can cause. As the U.S. Department of Justice’s Ferguson Report and numerous other studies highlight, local police departments are front-line players in a broader governmental strategy to generate revenue from individuals ensnared in the criminal justice system. The strategy is problematic for a variety of reasons, including the skewing effect it has on enforcement priorities and the major negative personal impact it has on those targeted (very often, people of color and economically disadvantaged individuals). Aggravating matters, the mercenary practices of local criminal justice system actors are complemented by private business entities that secure significant profits from the business local governments send their way. This Article surveys the adverse consequences of local mercenary criminal justice for governance, residents, and their communities; the many, quite distinct obstacles that federal reform efforts face; and the several possible avenues for reform and their likelihood of success.

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