Criminal Justice Reform
Our country’s criminal justice system is broken and is racist. We are obsessed with punishment and incarceration over education, engagement and treatment, even though research shows that locking people up does not make us safer or healthier or more well off. We must stop criminalizing poverty, mental health and substance abuse disorder. Education and engagement are the antidotes to all three of these issues. People don’t intentionally choose to be poor, have mental health challenges or become addicted. We do not choose the families we are born into. We must also stop making treatment subordinate to punishment because punishment affects people’s ability to lift their standard of living and does not solve the underlying issues.
We have a mass incarceration problem in the US that significantly affects many individuals and communities’ abilities to raise their standard of living and the overall economy. Incarceration rates have climbed steadily since the 1980’s peaking at roughly 2.2 million incarcerated. Our country comprises 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population. In addition, one out of every three Black young men and one of every six Latino young men born today can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Although Blacks represent approximately 12% of the US adult population and Latinos 16%, Blacks are 33% of the sentenced US prison population and Latinos are 23%, while Whites comprise of 64% of adults but only 30% of prisoners.
We also must refocus our prison reform efforts on reducing Recidivism, Rehabilitation and Job Training. The national recidivism rate is 43% within the first year, and one report on long term recidivism stated that 68% of releasees are arrested within 3 years. We can not incarcerate ourselves out of this problem. Let’s ensure that when people complete their prison sentences they have the skills, knowledge and safety net in order to succeed when they are released and not return to prison. Let’s also ensure that when people complete their prison sentences they have been properly treated for their mental health issues and substance use disorder and gained the technical job skills and training necessary to compete for higher quality and higher paying jobs.
It is similarly important that we also de-stigmatize mental health and substance use disorder, expand access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment, and prevent insurance companies from discriminating against those seeking access to mental health and substance use disorder. We must also increase the number of community based treatment centers and safe injection sites, and holistically support those with mental health or substance use disorder issues with an appropriate safety net including proper housing support and medical transportation.
The War on Drugs and the 1994 Crime Bill have been a disaster. Mandatory minimums, drug arrests, 3-strike laws, qualified immunity, racial profiling and stop and frisk laws were all created on this notion that we have to be tough on crime. Black and brown communities have paid tragically for these laws. The systemic racism in our criminal justice system cannot be overstated. Studies and data has shown that there are two criminal justice systems. One if you are white and the other if you are black. The ACLU reports that drug use is higher in white communities, yet black people are arrested at 10 times the rate of white offenders. Recent studies have shown that cash bail is disproportionately higher for black people than white people for the same crimes. We just found out this year that 70% of those stopped by police under FIO, Boston’s version of stop and frisk, are black, even though they make up only 25% of the city. Unfortunately, these are only a few of the data points that reinforces the realities we see on the news every day about how the Black community is treated by law enforcement.
Tough on crime does not work, but smart on crime based in recognizing racial inequity can work. We can reimagine our criminal justice system based on education, engagement, treatment, compassion and dignity. Let’s invest in education, mental health treatment, social services, youth engagement and ending systemic racism so we can build a more fair and just society for ALL.
As your next Member of Congress, I will fight to:
Racially Just Police Reforms
- Create New National Standards, Trainings and Certifications for Police – It starts with condemning and eliminating racial profiling, police brutality and excessive use of force. We must create national standards for police training and the use of force. We must also create national certifications and de-certifications for our police. In addition, we need to ban chokeholds and enforce universal police body cameras and police vehicle cameras. We need to create mandatory de-escalation training, cultural competency, diversity and explicit and implicit bias training. Finally, we must create a federal affirmative Duty to Intervene and Report the use of unauthorized or excessive force for Police Officers by Police Officers.
- End Qualified Immunity – Did you know qualified immunity is not based in any law? Section 1983 of the US Code gives any American the ability to sue public officials if their rights have been violated. The Supreme Court made an exception to allow for police qualified immunity and continues to expand it. If any police officer or an entire police department violates someone’s civil rights, they need to be held accountable. We must also improve overall police oversight and create independent investigations to hold individual law enforcement officers and police departments accountable.
- Demilitarize the Police – Studies have shown that police departments that receive military equipment are more likely to have violent encounters with the public and that such militarized police units are more frequently deployed to Black communities. We must stop the use of military equipment like armored personnel carriers, automatic weapons, and flash bang grenades, military tactics and military intelligence gathering by local law enforcement.
- Force the Justice Department to Act – If we create these new standards we need Congress to maintain strict oversight of the Justice Department to step in and act. The Department of Justice must reassert its statutory authority to investigate and litigate individuals or departmental actors who violate civil rights and overstep their boundaries.
- Ban Facial Recognition Technology – Facial recognition technology is based on a dataset of faces that are predominantly white. This leads to many false negatives for non-white residents. The technology is racist, does not make us safer and hurts our black and brown communities. We must ban facial recognition technology until such time as the technology is reliable enough to justify its use.
- Standardized Federal Guideline on Police Data Collection – We must create a coordinated and federal standard for the collection and reporting of data pertaining to use of force and threats of force by our police.
- Reallocation of Police Resources (Defunding the Police) – We must reallocate some of the funding from our police departments to focus on education and community engagement. We need more experts in the community leading our fight against the opioid crisis and substance use disorder, engaging with our youth at risk, assisting and supporting with mental health challenges, and fighting against poverty and homelessness. We need to stop criminalizing poverty, mental health and substance use disorder. We do not necessarily need the police to be on the frontlines on these issues. Let’s be engaging and proactive instead of reactive and punishing. We also do not need to pay our Police overtime to be construction flaggers. Let’s instead transition more resources from our police to community crisis teams, social workers, psychologists, and youth counselors.
Tackle Criminal Justice
- End the School to Prison Pipeline – Education is the antidote to criminal justice, yet we do not do enough to support students in the classroom. We need to invest heavily in our public schools. The disparity gaps are widening and the school to prison pipeline is growing for black and brown kids across this country. We must start with creating universal preschool for all of our 3-5 year olds. We also must provide more resources for more social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors and youth counselors in our public schools. We need to empower, engage and invest in our community and especially intervene early with our children, and not just be reactive using punishment as a tool. In my education plan, I lay out my plan to create a 21st Century Education System for 21st Century Values and I believe we must act on it now to stop this disturbing trend.
- Mandate Diversity Training – All of our DA’s, Sheriffs, Police Chiefs, Police Officers, Corrections Officers, Judges, First Responders, ADA’s, and anyone employed in our criminal justice system must be required to take cultural competency, diversity, and explicit and implicit bias training. The data is clear that members of our black and brown community get far higher sentences, get stopped more by police, get mistreated in jails, and are arrested more than white people even when controlling for offense, education and income level. We must unteach the lies, stereotypes and bias that we have taught in our society.
- Eliminate Cash Bail – Our system has turned cash bail into a punishment, when all it is intended to do is force those arrested to appear in court. Why should we be letting people out of jail based on how much money is in their bank account. Once again we are rewarding the rich and punishing the poor, who in this case are more likely to be people of color. We have many systems in place to force defendants to court, such as ankle monitoring, and we have processes to keep those who are dangerous in jail. We do not need cash bail.
- Stop Criminalizing Mental Health – An estimated 20% of incarcerated individuals have some form of serious mental health conditions. We need to invest in social services outside of jail to treat these individuals. We must expand and ensure mental health treatment for everyone and increase access to Medicaid, which is the largest single payer of mental and behavior healthcare. We must also prevent insurance companies from discriminating against those seeking access to mental health. Finally, we need to destigmatize mental health.
- Reduce Recidivism by Providing Proper Skills, Training, Education and Rehabilitation in Prison – In order to reduce recidivism, we must provide prisoners with the proper soft and hard skills, training, education and social safety net in order for them to have the best chance to succeed personally and professionally once they leave prison or they will return and it will be a bigger cost and inconvenience to our society. Similarly, if they have mental health challenges or a substance use disorder when they get to prison, we should treat and rehabilitate them in prison in order for them to have the best chance to succeed personally and professionally once they leave prison. For every $1 in education spending in prison, states save $5 overall through reduced recidivism. Restorative justice models have proven to also reduce recidivism while also adding restitution to those harmed.
- End For-Profit Prisons – It is just immoral for many states in our country to continue to use For-Profit prisons. No one should profit off other people’s suffering, and these prisons spend millions every year lobbying for laws to keep the stream of prisoners flowing into the system to help their bottom line. It needs to end.
- End the War on Drugs and Combat the Opioid Crisis –If we are serious about tackling substance use disorder and systemic racism, we need to end the War on Drugs. 58% of those incarcerated in State prisons have some form of drug dependence. We need to invest in social services outside of jail or prison to treat those with substance use disorder. We must provide massive federal investment in combating the opioid crisis, including creating many more community based treatment centers, more safe injection sites, and ensuring we provide a social safety net, including housing support and medical transportation, for those with substance use disorder. We must also prevent insurance companies from discriminating against those seeking access for substance use disorder. Finally, we need to destigmatize substance use disorder.
- Legalize Marijuana and Expunge Marijuana Convictions – Marijuana is a key driver of mass incarceration. Hundreds of thousands of lives are impacted because of marijuana arrests. We must legalize marijuana. Even though the use and selling of marijuana is almost exactly the same regardless of race, Blacks are 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites. Simple marijuana convictions can hurt the employment, housing and government assistance for an individual. We must expunge any past marijuana convictions and stop any deportations for marijuana convictions. We must also reinvest in the communities most harmed by our marijuana arrests and include those communities in the business side of the legalization of marijuana.
- End Felon Disenfranchisement – The right to vote is a core part of our democracy, yet we deny it to millions of former felons every year. Full voting rights must be automatically restored to felons once their sentences have been completed.
- End Mandatory Minimums and 3-Strike Laws – They don’t work and they incarcerate people for way too long without taking mitigating events into account. It is time to repeal mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenses.
- Pass and Prosecute Tougher Hate Crimes Legislation – If we are to combat hatred, bigotry, racism and Anti-Semitism in all forms against all people, we must pass and prosecute tougher hate crimes legislation, including making lynching a federal crime.
- Support the NO HATE Act – We must promote, improve and incentivize the collection and reporting of hate crimes by states and local governments and the FBI and create hate crime reporting hotlines.
- Abolish the Death Penalty – The death penalty does not deter violent crime and it is more expensive that life in jail. It wastes taxpayer money and has very little, if any, public safety benefit. It is also unjust and unfair, discriminates based on how much money you have, where you live, the skill of your attorney and the color of your skin. Finally, death penalty sentences are inaccurate as approximately 10% of innocent people since 1973 have been sentenced to death.
- Eliminate Life Sentence Without Parole – Similar to the discrimination found in death penalty sentences, so too have life sentences without parole been found to be discriminatory. This does not mean that someone will not stay in prison for their lifetime, but that they at least have the opportunity to have a parole hearing.
- Restore Pell Grant Access – We must restore Pell Grant access to prisoners to support them in receiving the education they need to be successful once they leave prison to find higher quality and higher paying jobs.
- End Charging Unreasonable Fees in Prison – Approximately 10 million people owe more than $50 billion resulting from their involvement in the criminal justice system. Prisons are now charging inmates unreasonable and not standardized fees for police transport, case filing, felony surcharges, electronic monitoring, drug testing, housing, medical and dental expenses, telecommunications, banking, telephone calls, emailing, room, board, security, clothing, toilet paper, meals and other things. We must stop any excessive and punitive fees charged to prisoners. These fees impose an unnecessary burden on inmates, and disproportionately affect low income and communities of color. These fees also increase recidivism and block an individual and their family’s ability to end their cycle of poverty.