Reforming Our Criminal Legal System
The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world and a criminal justice system not focused enough on fairness and justice. In recent years, we have started to change course—between 2007 and 2017, 34 states decreased crime while simultaneously reducing their prison population.Cameron Kimble, Ames Grawert. “Between 2007 and 2017, 34 States Reduced Crime and Incarceration in Tandem.” Brennan Center for Justice. August 6, 2019. But change has not gone nearly far enough or fast enough. We need a leader with the courage to take bold action at the federal level and to drive similar reforms at the state and local level.
It is past time to transform the criminal legal system to one that truly promotes justice, and benefits all of us.
Rebalancing our criminal system and refocusing resources on areas like public health, economic opportunity, and alternatives to incarceration will dramatically reduce mass incarceration and racial disparities in the system. At the same time, it will keep communities safer and save money.
It is past time to transform the criminal legal system to one that truly promotes justice, and benefits all of us. As President Pete will:
Pete will reduce the number of people incarcerated in the United States at both the federal and state level by 50%. Experts agree that far too many people are locked up unnecessarily.Austin, James, Ph. D., Lauren-Brooke Eisen, J.D., James Cullen, B.A., and Jonathan Frank, J.D. "How Many Americans Are Unnecessarily Incarcerated?" Brennan Center For Justice. 2016. As a result, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world."Highest to Lowest - Prison Population Rate." Institute for Criminal Policy Research. To remedy this, Pete will:
Just as important as having the right policies is having the right criminal justice leaders in place, dedicated to the goal of reducing incarceration rates and unnecessary turmoil within our criminal legal system, while increasing public safety. Pete will:
Not only do we lead the world in our incarceration rate as a whole, we also lead the world in youth incarceration. Over 40,000 children are incarcerated throughout the United States on any given day.Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. "Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement." EZACJRP. 2019. While the overall numbers are slowly declining, the racial gap is getting worse.Olivares, Jose. “Fewer Youths Incarcerated, But Gap Between Blacks And Whites Worsens.” NPR. September 27, 2017. Further, we continue to treat children as adults and subject them to harsh punishments. As President, Pete will:
Pete will support state efforts to abolish youth prisons and replace them with community-based programs by investing in a new $100 million federal competitive grant program for states and localities to close youth prisons and repurpose them to serve the needs of children.
Our existing system disproportionately impacts students of color and students with disabilities.“Civil Rights Data Collection.”U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. March 2014. Pete will encourage states to pass legislation that eliminates suspensions for discretionary infractions, such as “disrespect” or dress code infractions, where bias is most likely to seep in.
Pete will promote partnerships with non-profit organizations that have resources to sponsor these teenagers and provide them with housing and legal services.Burnett, John. “Migrant Youth Go From A Children's Shelter To Adult Detention On Their 18th Birthday.” NPR, February 22, 2019.
A Buttigieg administration will protect the basic humanity of all people, including those who are incarcerated. As President, Pete will:
Reduce the over-reliance on solitary confinement and abolish its prolonged use, bringing the United States in line with international human rights standards, which define the use of solitary confinement in excess of 15 days as per se torture."International Human Rights Law on Solitary Confinement." Human Rights First. Summer 2015.
Ensure that the cost of fundamental services and programs is not the financial responsibility of people who are incarcerated or their family members. This will include adequate nutrition, phone calls to family members, doctor visits, money transfers, access to public defenders, probation, parole, and incarceration itself. Too often these costs are borne by Black women and contribute to the financial burdens of Black families.Morris, Monique W. "Are Black Women Paying the Costs of Incarceration?" Ebony. September 18, 2015.
Failing to give people who are incarcerated the tools to succeed after prison does not just hurt them–it hurts entire communities. To help returning citizens reintegrate fully, Pete will:
Pete’s administration will prioritize reforms to bring better policies, training, and accountability to police.
Pete will create a board to focus on creating change in operational systems rather than assigning blame and will provide technical assistance to amend questionable practices,Critical Incident Review Board (CIRB). City of Tucson. August 15, 2019; Goff, Phillip Atiba, Elizabeth Hinton, Tracey L. Meares, Caroline Nobo Sarnoff, and Tom R. Tyler.; Re-Imagining Public Safety: Prevent Harm and Lead with the Truth. Center for Policy Equity. create a comprehensive federal database to document use of force and track officers who are fired from their duties, and work to abolish qualified and absolute immunity so that police officers and other officials can be held accountable for wrong doing.
While the criminal legal system primarily consists of state and local actors, there are many ways in which the federal government influences practices in our communities. A Buttigieg administration will take full advantage of these opportunities to promote justice. Pete will reduce barriers to accountability by making it easier for everyone to work with law enforcement and bring justice to wrongfully accused.
Scripture says, “Blessed is he… who secures justice for the oppressed.” With bold action, we can finally bring our criminal justice system in line with our deepest values. If you’re with us, text JUSTICE to 25859.
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