Building a Road to Redemption: Restorative Criminal Justice Reform
The Simmons Administration’s approach to criminal justice reform is a direct extension of its pro-human and pro-protection pillars that will push our country to face its long, dark, and complicated relationship with crime, corruption, inequality, over-policing, police brutality, and unjust policies that adversely affect a disproportionate percentage of minorities and the impoverished. Our policies will work to ensure safety for every American citizen and community while guaranteeing that for those who do run afoul of the law, they continue to receive their full rights as citizens, including opportunities for due process, rehabilitation, redemption, and rebuilding.
Our criminal justice reform policies are also pro-family. We believe that strong healthy individuals and families form the foundation of a prosperous America and this must also include those who have entered the criminal system and, after paying their debt to society, seek to reunite with their families and work towards an honorable living. With approximately 2.1M in America’s prisons and jails, we believe there is certainly a significant portion of this population that can once again become productive and contributing members of society.
The Simmons administration will set the tone for reforming the nation’s criminal justice system so that it not only reduces the number of American citizens in prison but dictates that prisons are primarily harsh judgment for violent and repeat offenders; it is not a place for American citizens to languish for minor and non-violent crimes while taxpayers carry the cost to the tens of billions of dollars per year.
Our criminal justice policy is driven by 7 primary mandates:
1) Reduce crime at the root. This consists of breaking the “school to prison” pipeline by reducing suspensions and expulsions and increasing mentoring, coaching, and trade programs for communities most affected by juvenile crime, shorter sentences for first-time non-violent juvenile offenders, and introducing restorative and rehabilitative instead of purely punitive measures.
2) Reduce recidivism. We will address the challenges of finding employment opportunities by encouraging all states to adopt laws such as “Ban the Box” that prevent potential employers from discriminating against those with non-violent criminal records. We will also reform restrictions on federal and societal participation, i.e. the right vote, hold public office, etc. and parole rules and regulations as well as incentivize states that provide successful re-entry, housing, counseling, and rehabilitation services.
3) Reduce the percentage of those imprisoned and executed for crimes they did not commit. We will support the work of organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative and the Innocence Project to provide legal aid to those who may have been wrongly convicted of crimes. We will also work to remove the red tape for freed individuals to then be pardoned, have their rights restored, and receive financial restitution.
4) Right the wrongs of the decades-long “War on Drugs”. During the 1980s and 1990s, over 80% of individuals were imprisoned due to possession, not necessarily trafficking of drugs, and the overwhelming percentage of those imprisoned were blacks and Hispanics. This misalignment has destroyed families, decimated urban communities by over-criminalizing victims of the drug trade, and stripped fathers and mothers from their children and homes by levying inordinate and incredulous prison terms.
The Simmons administration will address life sentences given to individuals without violent histories and will take a health-based approach towards those detained for drug possession. The same compassionate approach we are applying today towards predominantly Caucasian communities affected by the opioid epidemic must now be applied towards addicts of other legal and illegal substances in minority communities.
5) Eliminate Private Prisons: We are begging for the exact opposite of justice when we administer it through the lens of profit. As long as private prisons exist, their corporate leadership will support policies that keep their cells filled which is counter to our mission to reduce mass incarceration.
6) End the Cash Bail System: The system we have now essentially criminalizes poverty. People who can afford bail can instantly return to manage their lives while awaiting trial and people who are unable to pay bail are detained while they await trial for weeks or even months. This deepens inequities in the justice system that disproportionately affects communities of color and can increase the possibility of poverty, job loss, home loss, and even custody of children. We believe in starting with the presumption of release which places the burden of proving the need for detention on the prosecutor and would limit qualifications for detention to the most serious offenses, including domestic violence or any other offense potentially endangering the lives of others.
7) Bolster the Effectiveness and the Integrity of the Department of Justice: We look to restore integrity and independence to the Department of Justice, to return the department back to being “the acknowledged guardian and keeper of the law.” Our DOJ will be focused on enforcing civil rights and environmental laws, prosecuting hate crimes, race-based murder, police brutality, and negligence. We will keep a sharp eye on states who still have no hate crime laws on the books and will not hesitate to review controversial cases where corruption and cover-ups seem to be in play.
We also support the following recommendations for restoring effectiveness, dignity, and credibility to the DOJ made by The Center for American Progress. The following is from the Center’s website (August 2020):
- Codify stronger limits on contacts and communications with the White House. The DOJ should clearly articulate what kinds of communications are appropriate and prohibited, especially those that deal with prosecutions and criminal investigations.
- Adopt a clear, consolidated policy regarding election-year activity. While the DOJ has an obligation to prosecute election-related crimes, it must do so in a fair, impartial, nonpartisan manner and never for the purpose of affecting an election or of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party.
- Establish smarter charging and sentencing policies free from politicization. The DOJ should encourage individualized assessments of the appropriate charges in a given case, but in no circumstance should the defendant’s relationship with the president or other elected official have any impact on any criminal matter. Furthermore, the DOJ must review its current recusal policies to determine whether they sufficiently protect against even the appearance of impropriety.
- Adopt a written policy regarding the DOJ’s obligation to defend the federal government in litigation. While administrations have policy prerogatives, a clear, written policy that explains when decisions to defend the federal government are appropriate and who ultimately is responsible for making them would provide needed transparency.
- Prioritize restoring trust in the justice system by coordinating at the departmental level. The efficacy and impartiality of the country’s systems of justice are integral to a well-functioning democracy. Thus, an office at the departmental level should coordinate all the DOJ’s activities to reform the criminal justice system.
- Take a whole-of-government approach to civil rights. Protecting and promoting civil rights is the responsibility of every component of the federal government, and the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division should be empowered to lead that effort.
- Restore integrity and fairness in immigration proceedings. The next attorney general should make sure that the DOJ is providing immigrants with the full set of rights that they are entitled to under law and that immigration judges have the independence and autonomy they need to effectively manage their dockets and deliver justice.
- Improve the FISA process. The DOJ must ensure that the inspector general’s recommendations for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reform have been appropriately implemented; that the FBI’s corrective measures have been effectively adopted; and that additional changes are made to make certain that information submitted to the FISA court is truthful, accurate, reliable, and complete.
- Restore productive congressional oversight. The next attorney general must restore respectful, collaborative relationships with the committees that oversee the DOJ’s work.
- Adopt better goals and metrics. The DOJ should employ a more useful and informative suite of performance metrics for attorneys and agents alike that focus not on raw outputs—numbers of arrests, for example—but on outcomes such as reducing crime or mitigating threats.
- Respect the professionalism of career staff and ensure a diverse workforce. The next attorney general should launch an initiative to support career staff; vigorously defend career employees against unfair attacks whether from the president or anyone else; and help the public understand the critical and essential work that career employees are doing on the country’s behalf.
Reconstructing Law Enforcement
Ultimately we look to reconstruct the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Even prior to George Floyd, 75% of officers believe relations between themselves and minorities had grown more tense and those numbers are even higher from those inside minority communities. We are at a boiling point in society where simply taking sides will only work against a genuine effort to reconcile us to a point where committed, good police officers can do their jobs and no lives are lost unjustly in the process. We must work hard to make a distinction between being anti-police and anti-injustice. We are the latter.
We believe that our law enforcement is essential to the maintenance of our safety and security, but we must now engage in police culture shifting. We must lean into an age where Americans believe its lay citizens are equal to its police officers. We, as citizens, must also work to understand the dangers our officers face each day. But no matter how much we support our men and women in law enforcement, we cannot run from the troubled origins of policing in our nation; one that immediately pitted white against black and was based on an accepted understanding that minorities were to be feared and were inherently dangerous. To pretend this is an issue of law and order without addressing the hard to face issues of racism and police brutality is to miss a crucial opportunity to reassure all citizens that there is indeed equal value assessed on all lives. It is also a missed opportunity to restore trust in an institution where the majority of officers believe their mission is to serve and protect all communities.
- We will work to ensure that law enforcement is an organization that combats crime, de-escalates crisis, protects communities, and hates injustice. That will require a reconstruction of the recruitment, training, and assessment processes to more thoroughly screen for the potential of discrimination, emotional, and mental instability, and past questionable associations with groups linked to racism, terrorism, and hate-mongering.
- This upgrade must also include an increase in the educational requirements of new officers and the inclusion of racial sensitivity training.
- We must allocate funds to create a more collaborative effort towards crisis prevention, engage in community partnerships between law enforcement, neighborhoods, schools, and local leaders.
- We will also work to find ways to incentivize officers to live where they work.
- We will encourage young people of color to consider careers in law enforcement thanks to strategic debt-free education initiatives in criminal justice reform, law, and law enforcement.
- We must free police leadership's hands to fire bad seeds before they bear the bad fruit of negligence and wrongful killings.
- While ensuring police still have what they need to combat drug cartels and other high powered criminal activity, we must eliminate the use of military-grade weapons in the case of peaceful protests and other non-violent actions.
- Qualified immunity can no longer be used as a shield in cases of suspected brutality and other negligence, especially involving loss of life.
- We believe taxpayers should not pay for the legal costs of rogue officers who repeatedly do wrong. Officers with a record of repeat offenses, monitored by a national registry, should have their pensions increasingly at risk with each offense.
- Where race, gender, or religion are determined to be the motivating factor, officers should be prosecuted for a hate crime as would any other citizen.
More on gun control coming soon! Stay tuned.
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