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Issue Position: Criminal Justice Reform

Issue Position

Location: Unknown

If you elect me to Congress, I will advocate to reform our criminal justice system, to improve law enforcement and public safety, to support disconnected youth, and to advance racial justice.

Criminal justice reform. We need to put an end to mass incarceration. Between 1970 and 2005, the number of people incarcerated in the United States increased by 700%. That is unacceptable. The racial disparities in incarceration rates are staggering--and suggest persistent racial bias in our criminal justice system. More than half of those who are incarcerated are black or Latino, although these two groups make up less than a third of the overall population. I support the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act (H.R. 4261), which would improve our criminal justice system through federal sentencing reform, ensure better probation policies, reduce crime, and save taxpayer dollars.

As the sponsors of this legislation note: "In the past 10 years, the federal imprisonment rate has jumped by 15 percent while the states' rate has declined 4 percent. The drop in the states' imprisonment rate, which occurred alongside sustained reductions in crime, can be attributed in large part to the more than two dozen states that have enacted comprehensive, evidence-based corrections reforms." We should follow these states' lead by enacting sensible reforms.

I am a strong supporter of removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. This step is important to stemming the tide of over-incarceration, especially of people of color. According to the ACLU's data, between 2011 and 2012, 62% of SWAT deployments were for drug searches. It is very clear that the war on drugs has devastated minority communities, and that we need to move toward prevention and intervention, and away from mass incarceration. The Marijuana Justice Act (H.R. 4815), would incentivize states to change outdated marijuana laws, create a fund to reinvest in communities of color most affected by failed drug laws, and provide for expungement of criminal records related to use or possession.

Our leaders have been touting "tough on crime" strategies for decades, but the evidence shows that despite the massive amounts of money we spend on corrections, "tough on crime" strategies simply do not work. The cost of corrections nationwide has skyrocketed from around $7 billion in 1980 to over $68 billion more recently. Moving away from incarceration and toward prevention and intervention will save taxpayer dollars and be more effective.

Private prisons, of course, benefit from mass incarceration. According to the ACLU, the number of prisoners in private prisons increased by 1600% between 1990 and 2009. These prisons hold 16% of federal prisoners. Spending taxpayer dollars on private prisons has diverted funding and energy away from more effective solutions, such as sentencing reform, prevention, and diversion. Private prisons have strained state budgets while several studies have documented increased threats to prisoner safety at private prisons.

Ban the box. Furthermore, people who have been incarcerated should not face a lifetime bar on good-paying jobs. Because employers routinely make decisions about whether to hire based on arrest and conviction records, far too many people with criminal records find themselves sentenced to a lifetime of poverty. To end this practice, I support federal legislation to "ban the box" which would ensure that an applicant's job qualifications are considered before an employer asks questions about whether an employee has an arrest or conviction record, and that such inquiries occur later in the hiring process and are job-related.

Supporting Disconnected Youth. I strongly support measures to serve youth at risk of involvement in our juvenile justice system. In particular, I support prevention and intervention strategies to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by keeping disconnected youth from becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

I have worked particularly on addressing the needs of girls who become involved in the system. As I noted in a report I wrote on meeting these needs in 2012, "Girls make up a growing percentage of the juvenile justice population, and a significant body of research and practice shows that their needs are not being met by a juvenile justice system that was designed for boys. The typical girl in the system is a non-violent offender, who is very often low-risk, but high-need, meaning the girl poses little risk to the public but she enters the system with significant and pressing personal needs. The set of challenges that girls often face as they enter the juvenile justice system include trauma, violence, neglect, mental and physical problems, family conflict, pregnancy, residential and academic instability, and school failure. The juvenile justice system only exacerbates these problems by failing to provide girls with services at the time when they need them most." I believe we must provide the services and supports that all at-risk youth need, and provide gender-responsive supports for girls that address these challenges. I am proud that on the heels of this report's publication, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro introduced legislation to address the needs of girls involved or at-risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system, citing my report.

I am also a strong proponent of providing summer and year-round jobs and wraparound services for out-of-school youth to help them reconnect with school and employment. The Opening Doors for Youth Act (H.R. 1748) is federal legislation I helped develop to achieve these goals.

Improving Law Enforcement. We must address racial disparities in law enforcement practices. Across the country, there has been an increasing militarization of local police, and this disproportionately impacts and potentially threatens people of color. An ACLU investigation of the deployment of SWAT teams found that black people make up 39 percent (the largest share) of those affected by such deployments. The nationwide conversation about preventing the militarization of police in the context of the severe racial disparities that permeate our criminal justice systems nationwide is very important.

In Congress, my racial justice platform would include strengthening oversight of the transfer of military equipment to civilian police forces, as well as promoting evidence-based practices for de-escalation, support for the development of recommended best practices and protocols for the deployment of any SWAT- style teams and equipment to prevent disparate treatment and militarization, and training in addressing unconscious bias. I support H.R. 1556, the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, which would prevent the transfer of military equipment and weapons from the Department of Defense to federal and state law enforcement agencies.

According to publicly available data, roughly half of those killed by police in the recent past have been black or Latino. Addressing racial disparities in policing is critically important and urgent. I am a supporter of the CAM-TIP Act (H.R. 124) which would support local police departments' purchase of body cameras. The federal government must immediately start collecting information about police-involved shootings of civilians, and the federal government should also collect data on the deployment of SWAT teams in state and local policing. I believe that measures should be taken to ensure that investigations of police-involved shootings are undertaken by someone other than the police themselves to promote full and fair investigations, and that district attorneys should not be permitted to investigate police departments with whom they have had longstanding, close professional relationships. I support community policing measures that address excessive use of force and foster trusting relationships between community members and police.

If I am elected to Congress, you can count on me to act to promote my unwavering commitment to racial justice and public safety, including the safety of our local police and our citizens. While this piece addresses some issues related to racial justice, I also believe that there is no racial justice without economic justice, and I urge you to visit the good jobs plank of my platform on this site.

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