Criminal Justice & Legal Reform
Towards Restorative Justice
America’s criminal justice system creates just results for some people, but it is terribly unjust for far too many others. Research has shown that Our history of “tough on crime” laws have been directly responsible for America becoming the most incarcerated nation in the industrialized world. These laws disproportionately affect minorities and low-income communities. And because we do so little to rehabilitate those who are incarcerated, we have created a revolving door at our jails and prisons. Within five years of their release, three-quarters of formerly incarcerated persons are arrested once again, usually for minor infractions.
Criminal justice has become both a political and moral disaster.
The Problems of Our Criminal Justice System
According to the Bureau of Justice, incarceration in the U.S. grew from 300,000 people in 1980 to more than 2 million in 2013. This statistic is startling given that data from both the FBI and the Bureau of Justice shows that violent crime in America has fallen sharply over the last quarter of a century. Furthermore, when the media and politicians refer to crime, they focus on urban, violent crime statistics, and ignore corporate crime, financial crimes, and other ‘white collar’ crimes. These ‘nonviolent’ crimes have actually cost the United States close to $2 trillion since 2010, and the perpetrators of those crimes are rarely held accountable. In fact, 90% of white-collar crime goes unreported, and only 3% of federal criminal prosecutions are white-collar crimes. We must understand that when white-collar crime is unchallenged, the trickle-down effect of stealing those resources from average working Americans increases crimes of poverty in our communities.
Our criminal system has disproportionately targeted Black communities and Latinos, who have the highest likelihood of facing the most strict prison sentences. According to a U.S. Sentencing Commission report, the prison sentences of Black men are 20 percent longer than white men for similar crimes. Today America is incarcerating Black people at a higher proportion than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. Currently there are more Black men behind bars than there were enslaved in 1850.
It is wrong to ignore the racial element involved in systemic criminal injustices. Black mothers and fathers all over America feel the need to teach their children — particularly their sons — how to avoid the unequal application of criminal justice in the United States. The trend of incarcerating people rather than addressing the systemic problems that plague their communities, is a fundamental wrong in America that we must correct.
“People of color make up more than 60 percent of the people behind bars. Though only 13 percent of the U.S. population is Black, they make up 40 percent of the incarcerated population. Latinos account for 16 percent of the overall population but make up 19 percent of incarcerated people.” Center for American Progress
“Despite using and selling drugs at similar rates as whites, African Americans and Latinos make up 62 percent of state prisoners for drug-related offenses and 72 percent for federal drug trafficking offenses.” Center for American Progress
“People of color are more likely to be searched than their white counterparts during traffic stops. National survey data also shows that Blacks and Latinos are three times more likely to be searched than whites.” Center for American Progress
“Drug arrests account for a quarter of incarcerated people in America, but overall drug use has remained steady. America has spent trillions of dollars on the ineffective “War on Drugs” over the last 40 years but the proportion of drug use has not declined. Disproportionately, it’s been poor people and people of color that have been locked up. People with criminal arrest records are routinely burdened with impediments to employment, education support, housing, and stability.” ACLU
”Formerly incarcerated people are routinely blocked from getting jobs, housing, and educational opportunities after their release through federal, state, and local legal restrictions because of these records. There are nearly 50,000 such legal restrictions throughout the United States. This perpetuates re-arrest rates and significantly contributes to high rates recidivism of people who have been once released from prison.” ACLU
SOLUTIONS TO CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
- Increase protections for corporate whistleblowers and heavily penalize corporations that engage in retaliation and discrimination for acts of whistleblowing, in much the same way as implemented in the EU Whistleblowing Directive.
- Encourage corporations to implement a culture of protecting whistleblowing.
- Increase FBI and other corporate watchdog organization staffing and funding, to specifically target corporate crimes.
- Ensure that CEOs and executives are held criminally liable when their corporations knowingly do harm. Executives should not be able to hide behind Limited Liability Corporations to avoid personal accountability.
- Re-introduce the Glass-Steagall Act immediately to ensure commercial banking is separated from investment banking, and prosecute banking executives for breaking those rules.
- Increase funding for cybersecurity departments, and target criminals who steal personal data in order to commit fraud.
Early Intervention & Addressing Poverty
- We need to engage at-risk youth, and offer them the kind of resources, education, and counseling that will help them succeed in life, rather than fall into cycles of violence and imprisonment.
- Fund and create economic opportunities for youth.
- Ensure that the department of education has funds to provide bus and transit tickets. This would prevent our youth from being arrested for fare evasion and would provide them with transit options to keep them off the streets.
- Fund afterschool programs to ensure youth have opportunities to engage in fun, healthy, positive growth activities while parents and guardians are still working. ‘Latchkey’ children often benefit from this kind of support; we must eliminate barriers to them receiving it.
- Housing rights and economic justice that includes a living wage.
- Addressing poverty means addressing hunger. Hunger is a root cause of violence, and a country with the resources we have in the United States must do more to prevent hunger.
- In my economic and education sections, I explain what I am proposing to be done to help alleviate poverty in America.
Restorative justice is a reconciliation-focused justice process that can bring healing to victims and communities, much more so than solely punitive-minded criminal justice approaches. Restorative justice is guided by victims’ needs and allows the possibility for offenders to directly confront the human costs of their actions and make some form of amends. Ultimately, this approach to criminal reform helps everyone move forward – victims, assailants, and communities themselves. By laying the foundations for empathy, restorative justice prevents repeat offenses, and rebuilds frayed bonds, helping restore communities.
- A Williamson Administration will focus on studying and promoting restorative justice programs and approaches for legal, policing, and carceral system reform throughout this country.
- End the War on Drugs by legalizing cannabis and psychedelics used for both recreational and medical purposes, and expunging past convictions in order to reunite families that have been separated as a result of our criminal justice system.
- Civil forfeiture policies must end. Civil forfeiture allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or even real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.
- End qualified immunity.
- End broken-windows policing, stop-and-frisk, racial profiling, and all other racially biased practices.
- End all fines and fees associated with the criminal legal process, including ticketing, cash bail, court costs, and parole and probation fees.
- Implement stringent limitations on the number of cases managed by public defenders.
- End prosecutor immunity.
- Immediately remove all law- and oath-breaking judges.
- Document and publicly report racial and economic disparities on a court-by-court and judge-by-judge basis.
- Demilitarize the police.
- Create an independent national database of police crimes, brutality and misconduct.
- Implement independent, community-led police department reviews and data audits.
- Create a legal fund for victims of police brutality.
- Invest in community-based public safety measures, including peacekeepers and wellness checks, intervention, violence prevention, skills-based education, mental health services, substance misuse and addiction treatment, mutual aid, and mediation.
Trauma-Informed Justice and Courts
- Evidence informs us that the majority of people in jails and prisons have survived rape, assault, or childhood sexual abuse — or at the very least, have witnessed violence to people close to them. Most incarcerated Americans grew up with multiple adverse childhood experiences.
- Trauma sends people into the criminal justice system, and then the criminal justice system too often heaps more trauma on those incarcerated or facing incarceration. If we are serious about breaking the cycle of violence, we need to be sensitive to these traumatic experiences that lead to violence, and by doing so, we have a chance of addressing both.
- In particular, we need to create a trauma-informed environment inside the juvenile justice system. Too many of our youths have been mistreated, and when they act out they are often treated poorly again. This is not a tenable situation. If we can instead treat people with respect and provide them with psychological support, we can help save their lives and the lives of those they might otherwise injure.
Rehabilitation and Re-entry Support for the Formerly Incarcerated
In cases where incarceration may be necessary, we need not lose our humanity as a culture, nor do we need to ignore the humanity of incarcerated people. If we treat offenders with respect to their essential human dignity, we create a greater chance that they will return to their communities as productive members of society and not revert to criminal behavior. Most perpetrators of crime have been victims themselves. We need to give past offenders, once they have paid their debt to society, support in transitioning back to society. That serves not only them but us.
- A Williamson presidency will support increasing the number of programs in prisons that provide life-skills for those who are incarcerated. It will be a strong advocate for teaching inmates emotional literacy, communications skills, conflict resolution skills, and job training.
- Fund and provide re-entry programs for formerly incarcerated people to make their transition back into society easier. (This is like the Reverse Boot Camp for Veterans).
Many reforms can be made at the federal level for federal crimes, but things that are under state and local control, I will use the bully pulpit and every other means necessary to raise the consciousness of these issues. Through the Department of Justice and other relevant federal agencies, we will better coordinate and disseminate proper norms, provide grants and funding and in numerous other ways make positive shifts in our criminal justice systems.