Law and Criminal Justice
Criminal Justice Reform is an issue that has gained traction in a bipartisan fashion over the past decade. It is becoming increasingly important to look critically at whether the system is 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.
Proponents of keeping non-violent offenders in jail say that the law is the law, and the consequences shouldn’t be different based on the level of the crime. They support zero tolerance policies, and believe that by incarcerating non-violent, drug related criminals, they are helping to keep those drugs off the streets.
Opponents to keeping non-violent offenders in jail point out that there are too many people in the prison system, leading to overcrowding, and people incarcerated for crimes such as petty theft being imprisoned for life without parole. They say that non-violent, low-level prisoners would be served better by treatment, community service, or probation, as opposed to unnecessarily long prison sentences.
Proponents of mandatory minimums say that sentencing guidelines eliminate disparity in punishments and help reduce judge/jury bias. They say that eliminating mandatory minimums will lead to an increase in violent crimes, and can protect society long-term by removing criminals from society.
Opponents to mandatory minimums say they don’t deter offenders. They also say that these mandatory minimums help fuel social and economic problems such as unemployment and poverty. They also say that mandatory minimums limit the role of the judge, turning them more into an administrator.
Many people say that the media vastly over exaggerates the level of police brutality that actually occurs, which leads to violent protests. They say that police officers only react with force when dealing with someone who poses a threat to themselves or others, and more often than not act in self-defense.
Opponents to police brutality point to the high number of black men killed or wounded while in police custody. They point to cases such as Freddie Grey in Baltimore, Maryland, who died shortly after being taken into police custody. They propose the demilitarization of police forces and required body cameras to hold officers accountable, and hopefully reduce the number of cases of police brutality.
Civil Asset Forfeiture
Proponents for civil asset forfeiture say that law enforcement is given a tool to go after organized crime, since they can seize the assets of criminals. They say that it is a legitimate tool of the government, with many states requiring a criminal conviction before civil asset forfeiture can be enforced.
Opponents to civil asset forfeiture say that many times, property is seized without proof of it being used to commit a crime. Additionally, many innocent people have their property seized and their assets forfeited to law enforcement. Some law enforcements use civil asset forfeiture to generate revenue for their departments.