Criminal Justice Reform

Criminal Justice Reform is an issue that has gained traction in a bipartisan fashion over the past decade. Given the fact that prisons are overcrowded and three-fourths of inmates are nonviolent offenders, it became important to look critically at whether the system was truly working. Each year, the government spends upwards of $80 billion per year on imprisonment. Since nearly 75% of inmates are incarcerated for nonviolent, mostly drug related crimes and prison overcrowding has become increasingly pervasive, policymakers began to see that new approaches were needed.

Criminal justice reforms are now taking hold on both a state level as well as federally. Across the nation, states with a historically “tough on crime” attitude have undertaken reforms to reduce the number of incarcerated citizens, including several states in the notoriously harsh Deep South. And on the federal level, there is a bipartisan effort to help non-violent offenders.

Criminal Justice Reform

Point

Criminal Justice Reform has been a popular topic at both the state and federal level. Proponents of reform believe that our prisons are overcrowded and that we shouldn't be putting people in jail for nonviolent drug crimes. Other types of reform have included civil asset forfeiture, legalization of medical marijuana, and drug treatment programs. There has also been talk on demilitarizing police forces and passing legislation for body cameras for police.

Counter

Opponents of reform have been critical of putting convicted criminals back on the streets and making our drug problem worse. Many believe that this will lead to increased crime. Opponents also believe that taking away police tools through demilitarization will lead to a demoralized and ill-equipped police force.

What Students Think

Criminal Justice Reform has been a hot topic at the state and federal level. The issue of reform, through polling, varies generationally. Young generations believe reform will be a positive for society as older generations tend to be against reform. What do you think?

Candidate Positions

Donald Trump

Republican Candidate for President

Donald Trump has advocated a “tough on crime” message while saying he is unapologetically pro-cop. He has stated that the United States needs tougher sentencing laws and a stronger police presence.

Gary Johnson

Libertarian Candidate for President

How is it that the United States, the land of the free, has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world?

The answer is simple: Over time, the politicians have “criminalized” far too many aspects of people’s personal lives. The failed War on Drugs is, of course, the greatest example. Well over 100 million Americans have, at one time or another, used marijuana. Yet, today, simple possession and use of marijuana remains a crime — despite the fact that a majority of Americans now favor its legalization.

More generally, mandatory minimum sentences for a wide range of offenses and other efforts by politicians to be “tough” have removed far too much common-sense discretion from judges and prosecutors.

These factors, combined with the simple fact that we have too many unnecessary laws, have produced a society with too many people in our prisons and jails, too many undeserving individuals saddled with criminal records, and a seriously frayed relationship between law enforcement and those they serve.

Fortunately, a growing number of state and local governments are taking steps toward meaningful criminal justice reform. The federal government must do the same, and Gary Johnson is committed to bringing real leadership to this long-overdue effort.

Hillary Clinton

Democratic Candidate for President

Hillary believes our criminal justice system is out of balance. In her first major speech of the campaign, she said we have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America and called for an end to the “era of mass incarceration.”

Although the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, we have almost 25 percent of the total prison population. A significant percentage of the more than 2 million Americans incarcerated today are nonviolent offenders. African American men are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than white men found guilty of the same offenses.

“Black lives matter. Everyone in this country should stand firmly behind that. … Since this campaign started, I’ve been talking about the work we must do to address the systemic inequities that persist in education, in economic opportunity, in our justice system. But we have to do more than talk—we have to take action.”

Hillary believes that, to successfully reform our criminal justice system, we must work to strengthen the bonds of trust between our communities and our police, end the era of mass incarceration, and ensure a successful transition of individuals from prison to home. As president, she will:
-Work to strengthen bonds of trust between communities and police. Effective policing and constitutional policing go hand-in-hand—we can and must do both. Hillary will work to promote effective, accountable, constitutional policing, including:
-Making new investments to support state-of-the-art law enforcement training programs at every level on issues such as implicit bias, use of force, de-escalation, community policing and problem solving, alternatives to incarceration, crisis intervention, and officer safety and wellness.
-Strengthening the U.S. Department of Justice’s pattern or practice unit by increasing resources, working to secure subpoena power, and improving data collection for pattern or practice investigations.
-Doubling funding for the U.S. Department of Justice “Collaborative Reform” program to provide technical assistance and training to agencies that undertake voluntary efforts toward transformational reform of their police departments. Across the country, there are police departments deploying creative and effective strategies that we can learn from and build on.
-Supporting legislation to end racial profiling by federal, state, and local law enforcement officials.
-Providing federal matching funds to make body cameras available to every police officer to increase transparency and accountability on both sides of the lens.
-Promoting oversight and accountability in use of controlled equipment by limiting the transfer of military equipment by the federal government to local law enforcement, eliminating the one-year use requirement, and requiring transparency by agencies that purchase equipment using federal funds.
-Collecting and reporting national data on policing to inform policing strategies and provide greater transparency and accountability, including robust state and local data on issues such as crime, officer involved shootings, and deaths in custody.
-Creating national guidelines for use of force that recognize the need for officers to protect their safety and the safety of others, but emphasize use of force as a last resort and at the appropriate level. The federal government has an important role to play in standardizing best practices for the use of force.
-Take action on mandatory minimum sentences. Excessive federal mandatory minimum sentences keep nonviolent drug offenders in prison for longer than is necessary or useful and have increased racial inequality in our criminal justice system. Hillary will reform mandatory minimum sentences, including:
Reducing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses by cutting them in half.
-Applying Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactively to allow current nonviolent prisoners to seek fairer sentences.
-Eliminating the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine so that equal amounts of crack and powder cocaine carry equal sentences and applying this change retroactively.
-Reforming the “strike” system to focus on violent crime by narrowing the category of prior offenses that count as strikes to exclude nonviolent drug offenses, and reducing the mandatory penalty for second- and third-strike offenses.
-Granting additional discretion to judges in applying mandatory minimum sentences by expanding the “safety valve” to a larger set of cases.
-Focus federal enforcement resources on violent crime, not simple marijuana possession. Marijuana arrests, including for simple possession, account for a huge number of drug arrests. Further, significant racial disparities exist in marijuana enforcement, with black men significantly more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts, even though usage rates are similar. Hillary believes we need an approach to marijuana that includes:
-Allowing states that have enacted marijuana laws to act as laboratories of democracy, as long as they adhere to certain federal priorities such as not selling to minors, preventing intoxicated driving, and keeping organized crime out of the industry.
-Rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance. Hillary supports medical marijuana and would reschedule marijuana to advance research into its health benefits.
-Prioritize treatment and rehabilitation—rather than incarceration—for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. -Over half of prison and jail inmates suffer from a mental health problem, and up to 65 percent of the correctional population meets the medical criteria for a substance use disorder. Hillary will ensure adequate training for law enforcement for crisis intervention and referral to treatment, as appropriate, for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with mental health or addiction problems. She will also direct the attorney general to issue guidance to federal prosecutors on seeking treatment over incarceration for low-level, nonviolent drug crimes.
-End the privatization of prisons. Hillary believes we should move away from contracting out this core responsibility of the federal government to private corporations, and from creating private industry incentives that may contribute—or have the appearance of contributing—to over-incarceration. The campaign does not accept contributions from federally registered lobbyists or PACs for private prison companies, and will donate any such direct contributions to charity.
-Promote successful re-entry by formerly incarcerated individuals. This year, the number of people released from state or federal prison will reach approximately 600,000. For those given a second chance, and for the health and safety of the communities to which those individuals return, the reentry pathway must not be littered with barriers, but rather paved with a fair opportunity for success. Clinton will work to remove barriers and create pathways to employment, housing, health care, education, and civic participation, including:
-Taking executive action to “ban the box” for federal employers and contractors, so that applicants have an opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications before being asked about their criminal records.
-Supporting legislation to restore voting rights to individuals who have served their sentences.

Jill Stein

Green Party Candidate for President

End police brutality, mass incarceration and institutional racism within our justice system. Expand women’s rights, protect LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination, defend indigenous rights and lands[,]…replace drug prohibition with harm reduction, and legalize marijuana/hemp.

 

  • End the failed war on drugs. Replace drug prohibition with harm reduction. Legalize marijuana/hemp. Treat substance abuse as a health problem, not a criminal offense.
  • Release nonviolent drug offenders from prison, removing such offenses from their records, and provide them with both pre- and post-release support.
  • End police brutality, mass incarceration and institutional racism within our justice system. Support the Black Lives Matter Movement.
  • Demilitarize police. End use of SWAT teams and no-knock raids for drugs and serving papers.
  • Repair our communities rather than dump resources into the prison-industrial complex.
  • Establish police review boards so that communities control their police, and not the other way around. Appoint dedicated investigators to investigate every death or serious injury at the hands of police.
  • Enact laws to require independent outside legal representatives to investigate and prosecute any killing or brutality  by the police rather than prosecutors involved in the local criminal justice system.
  • Eliminate harsh  mandatory sentencing requirements which often result in unjustified sentences.