Wednesday, December 04, 2019

New Prez candidate Mike Bloomberg releases new (partial) criminal justice reform proposals

This page on the campaign website of Mike Bloomberg report that yesterday, after "a roundtable discussion with Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and community leaders focused on criminal justice reform in Jackson, Mississippi, Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg ... unveiled three criminal justice reform policy proposals."  Here is more:

The proposals focus on reducing the U.S. incarceration rate — the highest in the world — and addressing the failings of a criminal justice system that disproportionately harms communities of color. Bloomberg will unveil a comprehensive plan for criminal justice reform in the coming weeks....

The key pillars of Bloomberg’s initial criminal justice reform proposals include:

1. Launching a national initiative to reduce the incarceration of young people, by building on New York City’s success in cutting youth incarceration rates...

2. Expanding federal funding of effective alternatives to adult incarceration and investing in policies that help formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter society, find employment and escape the cycle of crime.

3. Investing in proven, community-based violence-interruption strategies that address the root causes of crime and prevent violent behavior before it occurs.

December 4, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Notable review and reflection on Prez candidate criminal justice reform forum at Eastern State Penitentiary

Earlier this week, there was an historical (but ultimately disappointing) forum for Democratic Prez candidates at the historic Eastern State Penitentiary.  Here are two links providing an overview of the event: 

The headline of the Inquirer piece highlights the main reason I am inclined to call the event disappointing, though this effective Intercept piece by Alice Speri capture my mood even more fully.  The lengthy piece is headlined "The Presidential Town Hall On Mass Incarceration Was A Historic Moment And A Missed Opportunity," and here are excerpts:

The candidates who showed up on Monday — Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, and billionaire Tom Steyer — sat close to a few dozen audience members representing a wide range of justice reform organizations led by those who know the system best. There were hugs, selfies, and some hard questions. But most notable was the absence of most of the presidential candidates, including all the frontrunners, and the sometimes evasive answers of the candidates who did show up.

“In that room, you had some of the foremost leaders in the country, folks who have been working for decades to lift the systemic oppression of incarcerated people,” said J. Jondhi Harrell, a Philadelphia activist who spent 25 years in federal prison. “To those who say that they want to be president and have specific ideas about how to reform the system, you have the opportunity to speak to the experts in the field. To just wave this off and say it’s not important really speaks to what you feel not only about justice reform, but also about black and brown people.”

Erica Smith, a California-based organizer with a group that provides transitional housing for formerly incarcerated people, made a similar point. “I was disappointed that some of the other candidates didn’t value what we have to say enough to come have a discussion with us,” she said. “We are 70 million deep in the United States, people who are system-impacted. It’s just the feeling of being discarded once again.”...

In the end, those leaving the event said they were elated that something so unprecedented could have even happened, but they were hardly impressed with candidates’ turnout or commitments....

But while attendees gave the three candidates who showed up in Philadelphia credit for being there to hear them out, several said they left more convinced than ever that any real changes to the system would need to happen without politicians.

“Historically, I’ve seen the United States just ignore our communities and so I won’t feel hopeful until I see results,” said Josh Glenn, who runs a Philadelphia-based group for incarcerated youth and felt that Booker had skirted around a question he had asked about the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. “I hope whatever president comes into office, that they do the right thing by our communities. But if they don’t, we’re going to stand up for ourselves, and we’re going to make sure that we get what we need on our own.”

October 30, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Prez candidate Beto O'Rourke releases a "comprehensive plan to end mass incarceration"

Via this extended Medium posting, Beto O'Rourke has released what he titles "Beto’s Comprehensive Plan to End Mass Incarceration and Reform Our Criminal Justice System to Prioritize Rehabilitation." The plan is too lengthy and detailed for ready summary, but here are a few of the sentencing parts:

October 29, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Mayor Pete Buttigeig releases extensive criminal justice reform plan expanding on prior Douglass Plan

Back in July, as detailed in this post, Mayor Pete Buttigieg introduced this notable platform titled "The Douglass Plan: A Comprehensive Investment in the Empowerment of Black America."  The plan, which aspires to "dismantle old systems and structures that inhibit prosperity and builds new ones that will unlock the collective potential of Black America," gives considerable attention to "Criminal Justice Reform," with nearly a quarter of this 18-page document focused on such matter. 

Not content, this weekend Mayor Buttigieg released an even more detailed an ambitious criminal justice reform plan at his campaign website under the heading "Securing Justice: Reforming Our Criminal Legal System." The full plan, which is available here and runs 16 dense pages with more than 70 footnotes, defies simple summarization. So here are a few sentencing part that caught my eye (with some formatting lost):

Pete is committed to reducing the number of people incarcerated in the United States at both the federal and state levels by 50%.... To remedy this, Pete will:

Double funding for federal grants for states that commit to meaningful reform and prioritize funding for programs aimed at pretrial reforms, decarceration, and expansion of alternative to incarceration (ATI) programs....

On the federal level, eliminate incarceration for drug possession, reduce sentences for other drug offenses, and apply these reductions retroactively....

Legalize marijuana and automatically expunge past convictions. Pete will push Congress to pass legislation requiring that a significant percentage of tax revenue flowing from legalization is directed back to the communities and people most devastated by the war on drugs....

Eliminate mandatory minimums. The average sentence for someone subject to a mandatory minimum penalty in 2017 was 138 months, compared to 28 months as the average sentence of people convicted of an offense that did not have a mandatory minimum sentence. Eliminating mandatory minimums and decreasing overall sentence length for a significant number of crimes is critical to ensuring that people are not incarcerated when there is no effect on public safety, and it will reduce incarceration. It also will eliminate the role mandatory minimums plays in incentivizing people to plead guilty for crimes they did not commit.

Direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to explore sentencing caps for all crimes. America’s mass incarceration crisis has been driven in large part by excessive sentencing. Powerful evidence confirms that long sentences have not made Americans safer. Further, we know that people often “age out” of crime as they move through the course of their lives. For this reason, Pete is committed to exploring innovative policy solutions to address the nation’s over-incarceration crisis, such as caps on sentencing.

Commute the sentences of people who are incarcerated in the federal system beyond what justice warrants by establishing an independent clemency commission that sits outside the Department of Justice. An independent clemency commission, with diverse professional backgrounds and lived experiences, will make the process more streamlined and comprehensive....

Support a constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty.

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.

October 27, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, October 25, 2019

Prez Trump kicks off series of speeches on criminal justice reform by touting FIRST STEP Act

As noted in this prior post, Prez Donald Trump and all the leading Democratic Prez candidates are on the docket at 2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum taking place in South Carolina.  Pres Trump gave his speech today, and this AP article provides the highlights under the headline "President Trump takes victory lap on criminal justice reform."  Here are excerpts:

When President Donald Trump talks about how his policies are helping African Americans, he almost always mentions a new law that has allowed thousands of non-violent offenders to gain early release from federal prison.

He made the pitch again Friday at a criminal justice conference in South Carolina. And then he sought common ground with African Americans by saying he has had his own brush with a justice system that many say treats blacks and other people of color unfairly.  “I have my own experience. You know that,” Trump said at the gathering, held at historically black Benedict College....

“In America, you’re innocent until proven guilty and we don’t have investigations in search of that crime,” he said at Friday’s event sponsored by the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center. “Justice, fairness and due process are core tenets of our democracy.  These are timeless principles I will faithfully uphold as president.”

During the hour-long address, Trump called several people who had been released from prison under the First Step Act to the stage to offer testimonials.  Tanesha Bannister, a South Carolina native who was freed in May, told the president she would be serving five more years in prison if not for his work.  “I want to thank the president for giving me another lease on life,” she said.

Trump called the law, which he signed in December, the “most significant criminal justice reform in many generations.”  The measure was supported by an unlikely mix of conservative and liberal groups that argued that harsh sentences for drug crimes had filled the nation’s prisons with non-violent offenders who could benefit from support and training on the outside if released.

Many of Trump’s Democratic presidential rivals are scheduled to speak at the forum, which is continuing through the weekend, giving the candidates another opportunity to connect with black voters in a state that is among the first to hold its presidential primaries.

But Kamala Harris’ campaign said Friday the California senator would skip the forum.  She objected to the group’s decision to give Trump its Bipartisan Justice Award, and decried that only a handful of Benedict students were admitted.

The audience included mostly Trump supporters, which drew criticism from other Democrats, too.  “Let’s not sugarcoat it. The fact is, he is coming to this college today to create an appearance that people of color support his campaign,” said South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson.

Trump told the audience that Democratic policies have let down African Americans and taken them for granted.  He said part of his agenda is to lift up forgotten Americans. “My goal has been to give a voice to the voiceless,” Trump said.

A video of the full hour-long talk by Prez Trump is available at this link.

October 25, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Julian Castro sets forth criminal justice agenda as "The First Chance Plan"

With this extended discussion on his campaign website, Julian Castro on Wednesday joined the sizeable group of prominent candidates for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination with a detailed agenda for criminal justice reform.  (Prior posts have links and highlights from Joe BidenCory BookerPete Buttigeig, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.)  Castro's plan is called "The First Chance Plan" and has three major sections: "1. Prevention Not Prison  2. Restorative Justice  3. Healing Wounds Of Incarceration."  Here is a paragraph from the plan's intor and a few of many parts of the plan that caught my eye:

At the core of the First Chance Plan is the principle that everyone deserves an effective first chance to succeed. For decades, communities of color have been disproportionately punished by the justice system while at the same time having the odds stacked against them from the beginning.  Many people never had a first chance and this plan will right that wrong. As a nation, we need to focus on preventing crime in the first place, not creating pipelines into prison.  We can build a system that advances real justice, not incarceration, to protect public safety and build stronger communities....

End the War on Drugs. Drug use and addiction is primarily a public health challenge.  In dealing with it primarily as a criminal issue, we have shattered communities, strengthened criminal groups, and locked up those who did not deserve it.  As president, I will bring our misguided War on Drugs to an end....

Plea Reform and Accountability. More than 95 percent of all federal and state cases that end in conviction involve a plea deal.  These decisions happen without a judge or a jury of one’s peers, and often involve prosecutors and police exerting immense pressure, such as pre-trial detention and the threat of excessive sentences on defendants to drive people to take a plea bargain. Under these circumstances, even innocent people have accepted plea deals that involve years in jail,prison, years of monitoring, and permanent records. This is a travesty of justice that must end.  As president, I will require open-file, pre-plea discovery for federal cases, requiring the prosecution to turn over evidence to the defense prior to a plea or trial, with appropriate safeguards to protect the safety of witnesses and individuals who may be at risk.  Additionally, I will require juries to be informed of plea offers as well as potential sentences so they can understand how much a case is truly worth to the state.

Eliminate Mandatory Minimums. Three strikes laws and mandatory minimums are a major driver of mass incarceration. In addition, these laws create steep disparities between the terms of a plea bargain and the likely sentence at trial that defendants face, causing many to abandon their trial rights regardless of the strength of the government’s case or even their own innocence.  As president, I would repeal the 1994 Crime Bill’s mandatory minimums and three strikes laws, and encourage State efforts to do the same.

Invest in Public Defenders. Every defendant deserves to have effective representation and a fair trial.  As president, I will give our nation’s under-resourced and overstretched public defenders the resources they need. We will reopen and expand the Obama-era Office for Access to Justice that President Trump shut down.  Second, we will ensure fair caseload limits and pay equality with prosecutors for public defenders at the federal level, and create a new $500 million federal grant program to achieve these standards at the state and local level. I will also pass legislation creating a new loan forgiveness program for public defenders, and will support ushering in a new wave of proggressive prosecutors.

Legalize Marijuana and Expunge the Records. In 2017, there were almost 700,000 marijuana-related arrests in the United States, with over 80 percent of them related to possession alone. As president, I will legalize marijuana and expunge the records of those convicted for non-violent marijuana offenses.  We will regulate the market and place a tax on all recreational sales, investing billions in revenue generated in the communities disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs.  Lastly, I will support equity in the legal marijuana industry, including by creating new grant programs that support minority-owned businesses and prioritize people directly affected by the war on drugs in receiving marijuana business licenses.

End Racial Sentencing Disparities. I will eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, and order a federal review of all other sentencing guidelines to identify and eliminate other racial disparities....

Abolish the Death Penalty.  There is no moral justification for state-sanctioned killings. Even the worst criminals in our society do not deserve to be put to death. With the pernicious existence of racial bias, the high financial cost of executions, and the disturbing reality that the innocent may be among the condemned, there is simply no justification for continuing the death penalty.  As president, I would order an immediate halt to all federal executions and commute the sentences of those on federal death row’s to life in prison.  I support federal grants for States to end the death penalty and to re-investigate the cases of those sentenced to death by State courts with new technology and renewed attention, in an effort to end the death penalty once and for all in the United States.

End Solitary Confinement as Punishment. Long term isolation in solitary confinement is one of the most harmful policies that remains sadly common in our prisons, jails, and even juvenile justice institutions. It particularly harms those with disabilities and who require mental health treatment.  As president, I will support efforts to end our nation’s use of solitary confinement by banning its use for purposes of punishment.

A few of many prior recent related posts:

October 24, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Prez Trump and all the leading Democratic Prez candidates now slated to speak at 2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum

As reported in this CNN article, "President Donald Trump will attend a criminal justice forum in South Carolina ... along with several of his 2020 Democratic challengers, the White House confirmed to CNN." Here are the interesting details:

The 2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum is also expected to be attended by former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts -- all of whom have confirmed their attendance.

Trump will speak on Oct. 25, while the Democrats are slated to speak at various times throughout the day on Oct. 26 and 27, according to the event schedule [basics here].

The event which is billed as a "bipartisan forum of presidential candidates exclusively focused on criminal justice reform as it affects the Black community," will feature the first-ever "HBCU Straw Poll," according to the news release, in which "all students and alumni of the eight HBCUs in South Carolina will vote online for the presidential candidate that best addresses their concerns on all issues facing African-Americans, not solely limited to criminal justice reform."  The forum will be held at the historically black Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina.

Last month, Trump announced that his administration would lift a ban on federal funding for faith-based historically black colleges and universities, hailing his administration's work advancing HBCUs. At that time, the President said the "nation owes a profound and enduring debt of gratitude to its HBCUs," later adding, "You've seen this administration's commitment -- bigger and better and stronger than any previous administration by far."  Trump has also previously cast himself as the best leader for African Americans, despite securing only 8% of the black vote in 2016 and frequently stoking racial tensions.

The forum will give him the opportunity to discuss the First Step Act, bipartisan criminal justice legislation that was enacted into law last year and includes measures that have allowed thousands of federal inmates to leave prison earlier than they otherwise would have, eases some mandatory minimum sentences and gives judges more leeway in sentencing, among other things.

October 20, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Making a righteous call for Prez candidates to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk, on criminal justice reform

This new USA Today commentary, authored by four criminal justice reform advocates who have all been previously incarcerated, astutely stresses that candidates for political office can and should do more than just talk about criminal justice reform in order to show real commitment on justice reform. Authored by Daryl Atkinson, Norris Henderson, DeAnna Hoskins and Vivian Nixon, I recommend the piece in full. Here are extended excerpts:

An examination of the criminal justice reform proposals of the Democratic presidential candidates shows similarities in policy priorities. Most, if not all, favor ending cash bail, prohibiting private companies from operating prisons, legalizing marijuana and reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences.

Yet, nagging questions remain: Who is fully committed to fixing these problems? In other words, which candidate will take action when they stop campaigning and start governing?

It’s important to examine more than policy positions and take a look at candidates in their entirety.  Some have prioritized criminal justice reform throughout their careers. Others have announced policies during this campaign that are at odds with their legislative votes.  Others still have made controversial decisions while they worked within the criminal justice system. But most have not been heavily involved in the movement to end mass incarceration....

At long last, the American public has started to recognize the harmful impact of tough-on-crime policies.  It is no longer a risk for Democrats to say that mass incarceration must end — a testament to the tireless work and dedication of thousands of advocates and practitioners, many of whom have a criminal record or have returned to their communities after incarceration.  It also is not politically audacious to issue position papers on eliminating mandatory minimum sentences or providing better services for people reentering society.  In this day and age, the fact that we cannot punish our way into public safety has been definitively concluded.

But those running for the highest office in the country must go above and beyond these safe ideas if they want to show that they’re committed to more than just political rhetoric.  After all, even the current president has claimed to be a criminal justice reformer.  To set themselves apart from politics as usual, candidates must speak directly to the constituencies that have the most at stake on every issue, including mass incarceration.

There are plenty of criminal justice reform groups out there just like ours, and activists are waiting for the opportunity to talk to candidates about policy. Democrats have given time to groups that deal with gun-control issues and that are led by survivors of mass shootings and family members who have lost loved ones.  Beto O'Rourke of Texas met with a little over a dozen veterans in South Carolina to talk about issues that affect them.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren spent time in Philadelphia taking questions from teachers....

We are formerly incarcerated.  But we are citizens.  We vote.  And, we are influencers in progressive movements that address mass incarceration and related issues.  Candidates who commit to direct engagement with us will send a message of hope to energize an army of supporters whose numbers have unfortunately and regrettably grown way too big.

October 5, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Prez Trump has reportedly soured on politics of criminal justice reform after FIRST STEP Act achievement

This lengthy new Politico piece portends some dark clouds for federal criminal justice reform efforts in the months and perhaps years ahead. The full headline summarizes the essential: "Trump snubs Jared Kushner’s signature accomplishment; The president thinks criminal justice reform is a political loser, and hasn't been shy about saying so."  Here are some extended excerpts:

When President Donald Trump huddled with campaign aides in the late spring to discuss his bid for reelection, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner told his father-in-law he should highlight last year’s historic passage of the First Step Act — a sweeping criminal justice reform bill that eluded previous administrations and has earned celebrity support.

Kushner reiterated the positive selling points of that bill during the Oval Office meeting as Trump campaign officials and White House aides ticked through the president’s achievements, wondering which would resonate most with his adoring base.  But Trump wasn’t interested and told Kushner he didn’t think his core voters would care much about a bipartisan deal for which he’s since accused Democrats of trying to steal credit. “It was clear he thinks it’s a total dud,” said a person familiar with the meeting. “He made it abundantly clear he doesn’t think it’s worth talking about.”

Kushner, whose own father spent more than a year in federal prison, worked closely with Democratic and Republican senators to get the criminal justice reform bill over the finish line last year — often telling his tough-on-crime boss it was worth expending political capital to seize a rare opportunity to overcome the deeply partisan divide on Capitol Hill and solidify his image as a pragmatic deal-maker.

But now, Trump “is telling people he’s mad” at how criminal justice reform has panned out, according to a person close to the president. “He’s really mad that he did it.  He’s saying that he’s furious at Jared because Jared is telling him he’s going to get all these votes of all these felons.”

Indeed, for months, the president has glossed over his son-in-law’s signature legislative achievement at his campaign rallies. If he brings up criminal justice reform, it’s almost always to mock his predecessors for their inability to get it done. Otherwise, as he did at his three most recent campaign events, he skips it entirely, indulging in long-winded rants about unresolved issues like trade and immigration instead of plugging one of the few bipartisan triumphs of his administration.

The subject’s notable absence from Trump’s 2020 stump speech offers a raw look at the president’s political instincts, which strongly veer toward partisan fights and away from the soaring appeals to national unity of past White House incumbents. And it lacks appeal to his base of rural and older white voters, who often respond better to hard-line rhetoric on the topic of law and order.

The nub of the issue for Trump, say White House officials, congressional aides and friends of the president, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly on the matter, is that he no longer sees criminal justice reform as a résumé booster heading into 2020.  He brings it up at official events, in response to reporters, and to religious groups — and it was a key part of Trump’s State of the Union address in January, when he welcomed home the first inmate to be released under the First Step Act — but it’s far from a permanent fixture of his reelection campaign.

“It would be difficult to say it’s a change of heart. I don’t think his heart was ever really in it,” said one White House official, adding that some Trump aides questioned why the president — who once declared himself “the law and order candidate” — endorsed the First Step Act in the first place....  In response to this story, a White House official said, “This false premise is another convoluted contradictory, media-manufactured joke. The president is clearly proud of all of his record-setting accomplishments — including the landmark bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform that data shows will save money, reduce crime and make communities safer.”

During the Oval Office meeting this spring, Trump complained that Democratic co-sponsors of the First Step Act skipped the bill signing at the White House last December (Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island was the only Democrat to attend) and have refused to give him credit for passing prison reform when his immediate predecessor couldn’t, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting.  He’s said as much publicly in recent days, tweeting earlier this month: “I got it done with a group of Senators & others who would never have gone for it. Obama couldn’t come close.”

The tweet came after NBC’s Lester Holt omitted any mention of Trump’s role in advancing criminal justice reform during a televised town hall on the network. The president felt the televised special was disingenuous and thought singer John Legend, who participated in it, “paraded himself out like he was the great savior of criminal justice reform,” according to a senior administration official....

“He’s been telling Jared, ‘I got nothing from that,’” a person close to the White House said of criminal justice reform, adding that the president feels duped by claims that his popularity has grown and that he is frustrated with Kushner’s attempts to “jawbone” the issue into every speech he delivers.  “Jared has got all these stats like ‘every rapist in Florida is now going to vote Republican,’” quipped the person close to Trump.  “Trump doesn’t believe it and he’s mad Jared sold him this thing,” the same person said. (The First Step Act gives only certain nonviolent offenders a chance to shorten their sentences, and excludes sex offenders from early release.)

Kushner has claimed publicly that more nonviolent ex-felons in Florida, where they recently became eligible to vote, are registering as Republicans than as Democrats. In a rare television appearance in April, he told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham that he found that statistic “very pleasing” and one “that will surprise a lot of people when they see the new coalition that President Trump is building.”  But it is unclear how Kushner and his team procured such data. As of March, more than 2,000 formerly incarcerated felons had registered to vote in Florida, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, which did not disclose the new registrants’ party affiliations. An aide to Kushner did not provide details on the source of the data in time for publication.

Some Trump allies argue that Kushner, who continues to monitor implementation of the First Step Act, is unlikely to persuade media personalities and Democratic lawmakers who support either to credit Trump with working across the aisle to get the measure passed.

“Van Jones was happy with Trump for a day. That’s all Trump got,” said the person close to Trump, referring to the liberal CNN pundit and former Obama adviser, who once described the First Step Act as “a Christmas miracle.”  Jones did attend a White House summit on prison reform this April — months after the bill passed — and recently met with Kushner to discuss its impact.  Jones, who co-founded the bipartisan criminal justice reform nonprofit #cut50, noted that he’s continued to sing Trump’s praises on the topic, including in a recent interview with CNN in which he celebrated Trump’s role in signing the First Step Act into law.... “There’s always been a bunch of people in the building, they didn’t like it before, during or after, and they’ve always been able to leak out anonymous bullshit quotes that then very quickly have egg on their faces because Trump does something else positive in this direction or throws in another line in a speech,” said Jones, who confirmed that Trump has been frustrated with the lack of credit he’s received....

Some Trump allies worry that the more the president talks about criminal justice reform, the more vulnerable he becomes if a prisoner released early under the restructured sentencing guidelines is ever accused of committing another crime.  When Republicans battled over criminal justice reform last fall, a small group of conservative senators who ultimately opposed the bill warned Trump of the dire consequences he could face if an inmate who won early release became a repeat offender.  “You let people out of jail early, commute sentences, something bad happens because of this effort [and] it’s going to be one more egg on their face — or even worse, blood on their hands,” said a former Senate Republican staffer.

Another GOP aide pointed to a negative ad campaign Republican gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone recently launched against Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards over his support for statewide sentencing reform. The ad accuses Edwards of putting “dangerous” and “violent” ex-felons “back on our streets where they robbed, attacked, [and] murdered.” A person familiar with the ad buy said it was prompted by the September arrest of a Louisiana man on burglary charges who was released early last year as part of a parole reform bill passed by the state Legislature in 2016. “Any smart political person would not go out bragging that they let criminals out of jail,” the GOP aide said.

This reporting is quite interesting, but not really all that surprising in light of Prez Trump's personal and political history. It also has me wondering whether Attorney General William Barr, who seems to be in good with Prez Trump and does not seem inclined to be a big fan of the FIRST STEP Act, might be having some influence on how the Prez thinks about these issues. Most fundamentally, this story serves as yet another reminder of just how fragile political support for criminal justice reform can be and how critical it can be to get reform work done whenever a window of opportunity is open.

September 24, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Prez candidate Beto O'Rourke proposes "Drug War Justice Grants" funding by marijuana tax revenues

As reported in this Hill piece,"President hopeful Beto O'Rourke on Thursday unveiled a plan to legalize marijuana and end the war on drugs." Here are the basics:

The former Texas congressman would grant clemency to those currently serving sentences for marijuana possession, establish a model for marijuana legalization and give grants to those affected by the war on drugs to help them benefit from the new industry.

The “Drug War Justice Grants” would be given to those formerly incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offenses in state and federal prison. Licenses to produce, distribute, or sell marijuana would be funneled to minority-owned businesses and fees would be waived for low-income individuals who had previously been convicted of related offenses.

“We need to not only end the prohibition on marijuana, but also repair the damage done to the communities of color disproportionately locked up in our criminal justice system or locked out of opportunity because of the War on Drugs,” O'Rourke said in a statement.

This page on the O'Rourke campaign website provides some background and details, and here are excerpts focused on criminal justice matters:

In January 2009, Beto O’Rourke, one of the youngest members of the El Paso City Council, introduced a longshot resolution calling for an “honest, open national debate” on ending the prohibition of marijuana.... To Beto’s surprise, the resolution passed unanimously. But the mayor vetoed the resolution later that day....

In 2011, Beto published the book Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico: An Argument for Ending the Prohibition of Marijuana. Long before the legalization of marijuana was overwhelmingly popular with the American public, Beto laid out his case for ending the decades-long prohibition on marijuana and repairing the damage done to the communities of color that are disproportionately impacted....

The War on Drugs has been catastrophic for communities of color, and our policy toward marijuana has been particularly egregious. Despite similar rates of use, African-Americans are almost 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. Yet, a 2017 survey of marijuana business owners in states allowing them found that only 19% identified as non-white. These statistics tell the story of marijuana laws in our country, where certain communities have been subjected to over-policing and criminalization while others are being presented lucrative business opportunities. Beto is committed to rewriting this story and rectifying the harm caused by decades of unjust marijuana policy.

As President, Beto will:

Legalize Marijuana...

Use clemency power to release those currently serving sentences for marijuana possession and establish a review board to determine whether others currently serving sentences related to marijuana should be released;

Expunge the records of those who have been convicted for possession and prevent the conviction from precluding these individuals from accessing housing, employment, education, and federal benefits, or from having their driver’s licenses suspended;...

Remove cannabis-related charges as grounds for deportation or denial of citizenship. The Trump Administration has explicitly targeted those with marijuana possession convictions for deportation, even though marijuana has been legalized in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

Invest revenue from the marijuana industry in communities impacted by the War on Drugs through “Drug War Justice Grants” and Equitable Licensing Programs....

To guarantee that opportunities to profit from a regulated marijuana market are made available to communities disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs, Beto will:

Call for a federal tax on the marijuana industry, revenue from which will be used to:

Provide a monthly “Drug War Justice Grant” to those formerly incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offenses in state and federal prison for a period based on time served. The grants will be funded completely by the tax on the marijuana industry.

Fund substance use treatment programs.

Support re-entry services for those who have been incarcerated for possession.

Invest in communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana arrests, including investments in housing and employment support, substance use and mental health treatment, peer and recovery support services, life skills training, victims’ services.

Support those disproportionately impacted by marijuana arrests, including those who have been convicted of marijuana possession themselves in participating in the marijuana businesses by providing technical assistance, industry-specific training, access to interest free/low-interest loans, and access to investment financing and legal services.

Ensure those most impacted by the War on Drugs are the ones benefiting from the economic activity related to marijuna.

As President, Beto will tie federal funding for criminal justice systems to requirements that states or local governments:

Waive licensing fees for producing, distributing, or selling marijuana for low-income individuals who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.

September 19, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Drug Offense Sentencing, Pot Prohibition Issues, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 09, 2019

Senator Kamala Harris releases her plan "to fundamentally transform our criminal justice system"

Via this lengthy new section of her campaign website, Senator Kamala Harris has now joined the ranks of the most prominent candidates for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination, in particular Joe BidenCory BookerPete Buttigeig, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, by releasing a detailed agenda for criminal justice reform.  As is always the case, the full plan set forth by Senator Harris, which is titled "Kamala’s Plan To Transform The Criminal Justice System And Re-Envision Public Safety In America," merits a full read.  In this space I can only flag the introduction and a few notable sentencing elements (with formatting and links not preserved):

Reforming our criminal justice system is as complex and pressing an endeavor as any other in our lifetime. It is the civil rights issue of our time, and there is perhaps no one more uniquely suited to taking on this issue than Kamala Harris....

At its best, the system serves to hold serious wrongdoers accountable and achieve justice for crime survivors, while helping to build safer and healthier communities.  At its worst, decades of failed policies have created an unjust, unequal, and vastly expansive system that disproportionately harms communities of color and criminalizes individuals just because they are poor. It is long past time to re-envision public safety by strengthening and supporting our communities and drastically limiting the number of people we expose to our criminal justice system.  As president, Kamala will fundamentally transform how we approach public safety....

As president, there are four main levers that Kamala can exercise to change criminal justice policy.  She can: (1) work with Congress and use her executive authority to change law and policy on the federal level; (2) investigate state and local actors through the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; (3) empower and incentivize behavior on the state and local level through federal funding; and (4) use her voice as president to advocate for change. And as president, Kamala will exercise every one of these levers to increase public safety, reduce our outsized criminal justice system, and make it fairer and more equitable for all....

End Mass Incarceration and Invest Resources into Evidence and Community-Based Programs that Reduce Crime and Help Build Safe and Healthy Communities

Ending Mass Incarceration. ... Make significant federal investments in policies that would end mass incarceration and especially into evidence-based, non-carceral social supports and programs at the state and local level to improve public safety and reduce violence.  This includes investing in jobs and job training, housing, transportation, food security, education, medical and mental health care, including trauma recovery.

End the “War on Drugs” – One-fifth of the incarcerated population – or 456,000 people – is serving time for a drug charge while another 1.15 million are on probation and parole for drug-related offenses. This is especially the case on the federal level, where nearly half of the prison population are there for drug crimes. So it is past time to end the failed war on drugs, and it begins with legalizing marijuana. Marijuana arrests account for over 50% of all drug arrests. Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simple marijuana possession. Worse, despite roughly equal usage rates, Black people are about four times more likely than White people to be arrested for marijuana. Black Americans also make up nearly 30% of all drug-related arrests, despite accounting for only 12.5% of substance users.

Legalizing marijuana. Support states in legalizing marijuana; legalize marijuana on the federal level, expunge convictions, and reinvest in the community....

Sentencing Reforms. Significant reforms must be made with respect to the criminal justice system’s sentencing schemes, including:

  • End mandatory minimums on federal level and incentivize states to do the same.  As a Senator, Kamala is a cosponsor of the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would eliminate all mandatory minimums by letting judges issue sentences below the mandatory minimum.
  • Reform clemency process to form clemency/sentencing review units and significantly increase use of clemency. The clemency process needs to be removed from the Department of Justice where there are inherent conflicts of interest. Specifically, DOJ should not determine whether individuals convicted by their own colleagues should be shortened or commuted.
  • For those who have been sentenced to long prison terms (i.e., 20 years or more), the sentencing review unit would provide for an assessment as to whether it is appropriate and serves the interests of justice for the incarcerated individual to be released or have their sentence shortened after having served 10 years.
  • End federal crack and powder cocaine disparity (reduce from 18:1 to 1:1).

National Criminal Justice Commission. The last time this nation seriously examined the criminal justice system was in 1967 when President Lyndon Johnson created the Katzenbach Commission.  That commission was fueled largely by people’s concern about crime. It’s time for a new national criminal justice commission, fueled by bipartisan support for major criminal justice reforms.  Kamala would form a commission with diverse stakeholders, whose goals would include studying the federal and state criminal justice systems, and providing recommendations within one year.  Her administration would then take action based on those recommendations.  In its 360 degree assessment of the system, pressing issues that need to be addressed include (but are not limited to):

  • Studying individuals incarcerated for violent offenses to provide recommendations via evidence-based findings. Politicians often talk about ending mass incarceration. However, one cannot truly reform the system without studying the effects of how best to hold individuals convicted of violent offenses accountable. While a significant part of the federal system involves those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, at the state level, more than half of those convicted are there for violent offenses. Moreover, studies show that merely imposing excessively long sentences does not improve results of preventing individuals from re-offending. So what are the best ways to hold violent offenders accountable and prevent re-offending? The commission would study this issue and provide recommendations based on evidence-based findings.
  • Redefining the metrics and data we use to measure success in our criminal justice system. People in the system use terminology such as “recidivism” even though there is no good definition of what that means. And people use data such as rearrests, when that is not an accurate measure of “recidivism” and perpetuates racial disparities, as communities of color are often more heavily policed. Our system needs to have a shared set of metrics and data collection that accurately measures what success means and informs our policymaking.

Reform community supervision.

  • Invest money in states to shorten the length of probation and other forms of community supervision where appropriate and where it serves the interests of justice;
  • Invest money in states to end jail time for technical violations of community-based supervision (reforming parole).

End the use of private prisons. Less than 10 percent of our prison population is held in private facilities, but it is nevertheless still necessary to end the profit motive that drives these private prisons, as it is inhumane to profit off of imprisonment and allow a system that continues to create incentives that are contrary to the goal of helping people rehabilitate themselves and return to the community. Kamala also believes we must end private detention centers for undocumented immigrants....

Invest money in states/localities to end juvenile incarceration in favor of restorative justice programs and wrap-around services, except for the most serious crimes.

End life sentences of children and offer opportunities for sentence reduction to young people convicted of crimes.

  • For example, fight to end de facto life without parole sentences by allowing youth sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for crimes committed before their 18th birthday to petition the original sentencing court for review of their sentence after they have served 10 years.
  • End the transfer of children to adult prisons;
  • End solitary confinement for children;

Make significant federal investment for innovative Back-on-Track programs that provide in-custody and out-of-custody education and comprehensive services to individuals convicted of crimes to reduce recidivism by equipping them with the tools they need to reenter society successfully.

Education, job training, and treatment. Mandate that federal prisons provide educational and vocational training, and mental health and addiction treatment in custody, including diagnosis and treatment of trauma. 

Reentry educational course. Mandate federal prisons to provide a reentry educational course that provides, among other things, information on acquiring identification and their options with respect to housing, education, treatment, and other assistance programs. Invest federal money into this program and incentivize states to provide the same reentry educational course.

Create an advisory board of directly impacted individuals to make recommendations for successful re-entry.

Expungement & Sealing

  • Automatic expungement and sealing of offenses that are not serious or violent after 5 years
  • Ban the box, i.e., remove questions about an individual’s conviction histories until after conditional offers have been made. Individuals reentering society should have a meaningful opportunity to obtain a job and reintegrate into the community.
  • Restore voting rights for all who have served their sentence.
  • End federal bans on formerly-incarcerated individuals (as well as those arrested and not incarcerated) access to public housing, student loans, SNAP, and professional work licenses....

Prosecutorial Accountability Provide explicit authority to the U.S Department of Justice to conduct pattern and practice investigations of prosecutorial offices that commit systematic misconduct. Invest federal funds in data collection and data analysis for greater transparency and accountability. Require federal prosecutors to provide data on their charging, plea bargaining, and sentencing decisions. Provide funding to incentivize state prosecutors to participate in a national reporting program. Invest federal funds to assess prosecutorial priorities. The FBI invests millions of dollars into developing a threat assessment system that helps them set priorities. The same should be done with prosecutors so that they prioritize cases that do the most to promote public safety and justice.

Support for Public Defenders Support for public defenders to instill greater trust and equity in the justice system. Kamala believes we must support our public defender systems, which are straining to uphold the constitutional right to counsel for indigent defendants as required by the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Gideon v. Wainwright decision. Her EQUAL Defense Act would create a $250 million grant program to fund public defenders. To receive grants, states and localities must impose workload limits, achieve pay parity between public defenders and prosecutors within 5 years, and collect data on public defender workloads. Increases funding for public defender training. Increases student loan repayment program. Her legislation has been endorsed by Jon Rapping of Gideon’s Promise.

Humane Treatment of Prisoners

  • End the death penalty. Kamala believes the death penalty is immoral, discriminatory, ineffective, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars. As San Francisco District Attorney, Kamala declined to seek the death penalty in the prosecution of an individual accused of killing a police officer, despite facing relentless political pressure to do so. End solitary confinement.
  • End solitary confinement, but ensure alternative therapeutic and rehabilitative mechanisms are available to protect the safety of individuals in prisons and of prison staff.
  • End the profiting off of incarceration. Specifically, prohibit prisons from making a profit from charging exorbitant rates for prisoners for telecommunications and commissary/food and supplies in prison.
  • Keeping Families Intact. Ripping families apart creates lasting harm and undermines the goal of building safer and healthier communities. We should strive to maintain family connections. Make it easier for family to visit prisoners
  • The FIRST STEP Act instituted a requirement to allow for federal prisoners to be placed within 500 miles of their post-release residency where possible. Kamala would reduce that distance even more and invest money in states to do the same. Restore parental rights for returning citizens in a timely manner Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, which Kamala cosponsors would: Require videoconference access free of charge; Provide parenting classes for prisoners who are primary caretaker parents; and Institute a pilot program to allow overnight visits from family members.

A few of many prior recent related posts:

September 9, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Senator Elizabeth Warren releases her plan for "comprehensive criminal justice reform"

Via this lengthy new Medium post, Senator Elizabeth Warren has joined the ranks of a number prominent candidates for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination, in particular Joe BidenCory Booker, Pete Buttigeig and Bernie Sanders, in releasing a details agenda for criminal justice reform.  As is always the case, the full discussion merits a full read, and in this space I can only flag a few notable sentencing elements (with lots of links to be found in the original):

The United States makes up 5% of the world’s population, but nearly 20% of the world’s prison population. We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with over 2 million people in prison and jail.

Our system is the result of the dozens of choices we’ve made — choices that together stack the deck against the poor and the disadvantaged.  Simply put, we have criminalized too many things. We send too many people to jail. We keep them there for too long.  We do little to rehabilitate them. We spend billions, propping up an entire industry that profits from mass incarceration. And we do all of this despite little evidence that our harshly punitive system makes our communities safer — and knowing that a majority of people currently in prison will eventually return to our communities and our neighborhoods.

To make matters worse, the evidence is clear that there are structural race problems in this system. Latinx adults are three times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. For the exact same crimes, Black Americans are more likely than whites to be arrested, charged, wrongfully convicted, and given harsher sentences. One in ten Black children has an incarcerated parent....

Address the legacy of the War on Drugs. For four decades, we’ve subscribed to a “War on Drugs” theory of crime, which has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families — and largely failed to curb drug use. This failure has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach. It starts with legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment....

Prosecutorial and Judicial Reform. Our current criminal system is complex and places enormous power in the hands of the state. The government controls what leads to pursue, what charges are levied, whether a plea is offered, and how long someone spends behind bars. It has massive resources at its disposal, and enjoys few obligations to share information and limited oversight of its actions. All of this makes it challenging to ensure that the accused can go to trial, can get a fair trial, and can receive a just and reasonable sentence if convicted. To make matters worse, race permeates every aspect of the system — people of color are twice as likely to be charged with crimes that carry a mandatory minimum sentence. Reform requires a transparent system that emphasizes justice, that gives people a fighting chance — and truly treats everyone equally, regardless of color. Here’s how we can start.

Strengthen public defenders and expand access to counsel. The Sixth Amendment provides every American accused of a crime with the right to an attorney — but too many defendants cannot afford one, and too often, public defenders are under-resourced, overworked, and overwhelmed. If we expect fair adversarial trials, we need to balance resources on both sides of each case in every jurisdiction. I’ll fund federal public defenders and expand targeted grant funding for public defenders at the state level, to ensure that they have the tools to effectively defend their clients. I’ll also reopen and expand DOJ’s Office for Access to Justice, which worked with state and local governments to expand access to counsel. We should ensure that our public defenders are paid a fair salary for their work, and that their caseloads allow for the comprehensive defense of their clients. Finally, I’ll provide funding for language and cultural competency training, including on gender identity and treatment of individuals with disabilities, so that public defenders are best able to serve their clients....

Reforming Incarceration

The federal prison population has grown 650% since 1980, and costs have ballooned by 685%. This explosion has been driven in large part by rules requiring mandatory minimum sentences and other excessively long sentencing practices. These harsh sentencing practices are not only immoral, there’s little evidence that they are effective. As president I will fight change them.

Reduce mandatory minimums. The 1994 crime bill’s mandatory minimums and “truth-in-sentencing” provisions that require offenders to serve the vast majority of their sentences have not proven effective.  Congress should reduce or eliminate these provisions, giving judges more flexibility in sentencing decisions, with the goal of reducing incarceration to mid-1990s levels.  My administration will also reverse the Sessions memo that requires federal prosecutors to seek the most severe possible penalties, and allow federal prosecutors discretion to raise the charge standards for misdemeanors and seek shorter sentences for felony convictions...

End the death penalty. Studies show that capital punishment is often applied in a manner biased against people of color and those with a mental illness. I oppose the death penalty.  A Warren administration would reverse Attorney General Barr’s decision to move forward with federal executions, and Congress should abolish the death penalty.

Use the pardon and clemency powers broadly to right systemic injustices.  The president has significant powers to grant clemency and pardons, and historically presidents have used that power broadly. But today’s hierarchical process at DOJ results in relatively few and conservative clemency recommendations. I’ll remove the clemency process from DOJ, instead empowering a clemency board to make recommendations directly to the White House. I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished.

While I will leave it to others to assess this plan as a whole, I must initially express disappointment that plan calls only to "reduce mandatory minimums"  rather than eliminate them.  And, in context, it seems that Senator Warren is only focused on the 1994 Crime Bill mandatory minimums whereas a number of other ones are far more consequential and pernicious. 

Even more worrisome is Senator Warren setting a "goal of reducing incarceration to mid-1990s levels."  Incarceration levels were already crazy-high by the mid-1990s: as this BJS report notes, "prisons at yearend 1996 totaled 427 sentenced inmates per 100,000 residents -- up from 292 in 1990."  Meanwhile, at the end of 2017, as detailed in this BJS document, ten years of small reductions had us down to "440 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents."  In other words, our incarceration rates are already pretty close to "mid-1990s levels" and we might well be below those levels by the end of this year thanks in part to the FIRST STEP Act and its echoes.

A few of many prior recent related posts:

August 20, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Senator Bernie Sanders releases criminal justice reform plan under banner "Justice and Safety for All"

A number prominent candidates for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination, in particular Joe BidenCory Booker and Pete Buttigeig, have put forth major criminal justice reform plans in recent months.  The latest to join their ranks in Senator Bernie Sanders, who today released this extended plan with lots of reform rhetoric and more than a few notable concrete proposals.  I recommend reading the full plan, and here are excerpts with just some of the some rhetoric and some particulars that especially caught my attention:

Due to the historical legacy of institutional racism in this country, mass incarceration disportionately falls on the shoulders of black and brown people in America. In fact, black Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of white Americans, and even though people use drugs like marijuana at roughly the same rates across all races, black Americans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Americans. These disparities pervade every aspect of the criminal justice system. Black Americans, and especially young black men, are more likely to be stopped by the police, subjected to excessive force, arrested, and jailed than whites.

When Bernie is president, we will finally make the deep and structural investments to rebuild the communities that mass incarceration continues to decimate. We must move away from an overly-punitive approach to public safety and start focusing on how to safeguard our communities, prevent the conditions that lead to arrests, and rehabilitate people who have made mistakes....

Right to Counsel

In 1963, the Supreme Court decided Gideon v. Wainwright, guaranteeing all felony defendants counsel, yet today 90 to 95 percent of criminal cases are decided by a plea deal, too often without the defendant playing an active role.

Across the United States, more than 80 percent of felony defendants cannot afford a privately retained lawyer and have to rely on state-administered public defenders or court-appointed counsel. Yet in states across the country, public defenders have far too many clients and too few resources to offer adequate representation. Despite the often heroic efforts of public defenders and other appointed counsel, the workload makes it impossible to provide the quality of representation that each defendant deserves.  77 percent of black Americans and 73 percent of Latinos in state prisons had a public defender or court-appointed counsel, yet 75 percent of county-based public defender offices have exceeded the maximum recommended limit of cases received per attorney.

America must not be a country where only the rich enjoy the protections of the Fifth Amendment. We must not have a court system that offers “the best justice money can buy.” We must guarantee all Americans their Sixth Amendment rights.

As president, Bernie will:

  • Triple national spending on indigent defense, to $14 billion annually.
  • After a review of current salaries and workload, set a minimum starting salary for all public defenders.
  • Create and set a national formula to assure populations have a minimum number of public defenders to assure full access to constitutional right to due process.
  • Establish federal guidelines and goals for a right to counsel, including policies that reduce the number of cases overall.
  • Create a federal agency to provide support and oversight for state public defense services.
  • Authorize the Department of Justice to take legal action against jurisdictions that are not meeting their Sixth Amendment obligations.
  • Cancel all existing student debt and cancel any future student debt for public defenders through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program....

Ending Mass Incarceration and Excessive Sentencing....

As president, Bernie will:

  • Abolish the death penalty.
  • Reverse the Trump administration’s guidance on the use of death penalty drugs with the goal of ending the death penalty at the state level.
  • Stop excessive sentencing with the goal of cutting the incarcerated population in half.
  • End mandatory sentencing minimums.
  • Reinstate a federal parole system and end truth-in-sentencing. People serving long sentences will undergo a “second look” process to make sure their sentence is still appropriate.
  • End “three strikes” laws. No one should spend their life behind bars for committing minor crimes, even if they commit several of them.
  • Invigorate and expand the compassionate release process so that people with disabilities, the sick and elderly are transitioned out of incarceration whenever possible.
  • Expand the use of sentencing alternatives, including community supervision and publicly funded halfway houses. This includes funding state-based pilot programs to establish alternatives to incarceration, including models based on restorative justice and free access to treatment and social services.
  • Revitalize the executive clemency process by creating an independent clemency board removed from the Department of Justice and placed in White House....
  • Legalize marijuana and vacate and expunge past marijuana convictions, and ensure that revenue from legal marijuana is reinvested in communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs....
  • Raise the threshold for when drug charges are federalized, as federal charges carry longer sentences....
  • Institute a full review of the current sentencing guidelines and end the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine.

 

A few of many prior recent related posts:

August 18, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Rounding up some 2020 criminal justice reform press pieces

In the wake of the latest debate among Democrats vying for a 2020 Prez nomination, the Marshall Project had these two great pieces on the Democratic field and modern political realities:

"Beyond One-Liners: A Guide to the Democratic Debate on Criminal Justice"

"Are Voters Ready to Move on From Willie Horton?  Democratic debates show how far the conversation has come on justice reform."

In addition, a few other media outlets have had recent pieces in a somewhat similar same vein:

"Criminal Justice Reform Advocates See Prime Opportunity in 2020 Election"

"What's wrong with America's criminal justice system? 6 questions for an expert"

August 3, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 29, 2019

Will criminal justice reform take on a bigger role in round two of the 2020 Democratic Prez candidate debates?

190717174548-cnn-democratic-presidential-debate-large-169The next round of debates among the Democratic candidates eager to take on Prez Trump in Nov 2020 takes place this week in Detroit (and this local article provides a partial review and preview of the candidates).  I have an inkling that Prez Trump's varied attacks on various Democratic members of Congress may take up a lot of the conversation, but I am of course hoping that we get more focus on criminal justice reform issues.  For various reasons, I think we might.

For starters, federal criminal justice developments have been in the news quite a bit of late.  Two weeks ago, we had the implementation of the FIRST STEP Act kick into a new gear (basics here), and last week Attorney General William Barr announced a change in the federal execution protocol and the scheduling of five federal executions (basics here).  These developments certainly could justify a focused question ("Will you pledge to commute all federal death sentences as Prez?") or general question ("What should be prioritized in the NEXT STEP Act?") on federal criminal justice reforms.

In addition, a number prominent candidates, in particular Joe Biden, Cory Booker and Pete Buttigeig, have put forth major criminal justice reform plans in recent weeks.  These candidates now have developed positions and "talking points" on various criminal justice reform topics, and they may be interested in bring up their plans in more general discussions to highlight their priorities.

And speaking of Joe Biden, it is possible that some of his competitors might think that he can be attacked based on his past role in various federal laws that are now the subject of much justified criticism.  With Biden seemingly still the front-runner, there might be an interest in bringing up his criminal justice reform past.  This new lengthy Washington Post article, headlined "How an early Biden crime bill created the sentencing disparity for crack and cocaine trafficking," certainly tees up one possible line of attack.  Here is an excerpt:

As he makes another bid for the White House, Biden, now 76, is facing criticism over his past advocacy for tough-on-crime policies, particularly his authorship of the 1994 omnibus anti-crime law that is blamed for accelerating incarceration rates, especially of black men.  One of his Democratic rivals, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, last week said that the law “inflicted immeasurable harm on black, brown, and low-income communities.”  Booker is expected to raise the issue again before a national audience during this week’s primary debate.

Biden’s role in passing the lesser-known 1986 law and creating the crack-powder disparity reveals how he grappled with policies years earlier that would affect the black community.  The episode could further complicate his ongoing struggle to reconcile his decades-long record with changing political and societal norms....

An examination of Biden’s work on a half-dozen criminal justice bills found that his legislation included liberal priorities but also broadly served to push federal criminal policy to the right in response to a surge of violent crime.  Biden’s language and policy positions were mainstream for Democrats at the time, reflecting a political consensus around tough-on-crime policies during the crime wave that began in the 1970s and efforts by many in the party to assert a more centrist image.

Critics now say those policies helped fuel incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system — and are calling on Biden to take responsibility for his part....

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act authorized more than $1 billion for drug enforcement, education and treatment programs.  But one of its most consequential provisions was the “100-1” rule, so named because it required a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking in 500 grams of powder cocaine or five grams of crack.

Though Biden took responsibility for the formula in 2002, it is unclear exactly how it came to be part of his bill.  The ratio was more aggressive than proposals from either the Reagan administration, which sought a “20-1” rule, or House Democrats, who held the majority and sought a “50-1” rule, but less aggressive than the “1,000-1” ratio proposed by Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.), the co-chairman of Biden’s working group.

The process had turned into a political “bidding war” between Republicans and Democrats, who were courting fearful voters ahead of the 1986 elections, said Eric Sterling, a former House Democratic staffer who worked on the 50-1 proposal.

No experts recommended a 100-1 ratio, said Sterling, now president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, a drug policy and criminal justice reform group, who said he regrets working on the House proposal.  “Biden was the lead anti-drug guy among the Democrats.  As ranking member, he had critical sign-off authority on legislation.  A lot of these concerns about the 100-to-1 ratio really are questions that Biden needs to answer for,” Sterling said in an interview this month.

A few of many prior recent related posts:

July 29, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 25, 2019

An effective critical review of some Prez candidates' new criminal justice reform plans

Over at The New Republic, Matt Ford has this effective discussion of some notable criminal justice reform proposals put forward by some notabe folks running for president. I recommend the full piece, which carries the full headline "Biden’s Big, Obvious Ideas for Criminal-Justice Reform: He and several other candidates have issued plans that appear ambitious only because America's system is so broken." Here are excerpts:

Taken as a whole, [Joe Biden's] plan is a tacit acknowledgement that the former vice president got it mostly wrong on criminal justice throughout his four-decade Senate career. Some of its positions, such decriminalizing marijuana and abolishing the death penalty, are specifically at odds with much of his legislative work in the 1980s and 1990s.  But it’s also among the most comprehensive packages proposed by any of the Democratic contenders.  Many of his rivals offer similar stances on sentencing reform and mass incarceration, but only South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has articulated a more sweeping vision for reform.

It would be tempting to call these proposals radical, given that they would have a transformative effect on the American criminal-justice system.  But they’re only radical when viewed through the prism of establishment politics. Considered from a moral and policy perspective, they’re downright obvious.

Take solitary confinement.  Buttigieg says he would “abolish its prolonged use, bringing the United States in line with international human rights standards, which view the use of solitary confinement in excess of 15 days as per se torture.”  Biden says that he would also largely end the practice, “with very limited exceptions such as protecting the life of an imprisoned person.”  Booker, Harris, Warren, and four other Democratic senators co-sponsored a bill that would limit it to “the briefest term and under the least restrictive conditions possible.”

This would be a sharp break from the status quo in America, where tens of thousands of people are put in solitary confinement each year.  It would also bring national policy in line with the academic consensus that prolonged isolation can cause serious psychological damage.  As Buttigieg noted, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture recommends no more than 15 days in solitary and an absolute ban on its use for juveniles and people with mental illnesses.  The Supreme Court first acknowledged the immense toll of solitary confinement in an 1890 case, and Justice Anthony Kennedy warned in 2015 that the practice “literally drives men mad.”...

Another common theme is the intersection of mental illness and law enforcement.  Biden says he would “fund initiatives to partner mental health and substance use disorder experts, social workers, and disability advocates with police departments,” so that these people get the help they need rather than being locked up (or worse, shot dead). Buttigieg’s plan, by comparison, aims to remove police from the equation as much as possible.  He instead proposes investments in “community-based care [and] front-end social supports” that would “minimize the need for police officers to serve as de facto social workers and allow them to resume their primary role as guardians of public safety.”

Ensuring that people with mental illnesses get treated by health-care professionals instead of police officers seems like a no-brainer.  But in the U.S., the criminal-justice system doubles as the nation’s mental health-care provider of last resort.  Those without the ability or resources to obtain treatment instead find themselves funneled into jails and prisons, perhaps the least therapeutic environments imaginable....

There’s still room for improvement in the Democrats’ plans.  None of the major candidates discuss qualified-immunity reform in their plans.... Habeas corpus is another complicated but important area in need of reform....

It’s no critique of Biden, Buttigieg, or their rivals to note that they’re pushing for major changes to the way American criminal justice currently operates.  At the same time, it’s worth taking stock of how self-evident their solutions are.  Not throwing people in jail because they can’t pay court fees, and not condemning people to years or even decades of isolation, sound like baseline rules for a civilized society.  What’s truly radical is the harshness of the system that Biden and other politicians of his generation built, not the means by which it’s undone.

Prior recent related posts:

July 25, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Former Veep Joe Biden releases extended "Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice"

5cc204a166ae8f499c6db764-750-563As reported in this new Washington Post piece, headlined "Biden announces criminal justice policy sharply at odds with his ’94 crime law," the former Vice President and now Dem nominee front-runner Joe Biden has today release a big bold criminal justice reform plan that is new in various ways.  The Post piece provides some highlights and context, and it starts this way:

Former vice president Joe Biden, who has faced criticism from liberals for spearheading a 1994 law when he was a senator that cracked down on criminals, announced a proposal Tuesday that would eliminate the death penalty and embrace other changes at odds with that earlier legislation.

The Democratic presidential candidate would aim to pass legislation to abolish the death penalty at the federal level and offer incentives to states to follow suit, his new plan says. Convicted criminals who would face execution under current law would instead be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Biden’s plan also would decriminalize marijuana and expunge past cannabis-related convictions; end the disparity between sentences for powder and crack cocaine; and do away with all incarceration for drug use alone. In addition, it would create a $20 billion grant program to spur states to move from incarceration to crime prevention and eliminate mandatory-minimum sentences.

Attitudes about race and criminal justice have changed significantly over the years in both parties, partly as a result of decreasing crime rates. Democrats in particular have moved sharply away from ideas that give greater powers to the police and prosecutors, instead committing to addressing inequities that they say have damaged minority communities.

The release of Biden’s criminal justice plan comes about a week before the next round of televised Democratic primary debates, when his record is expected to come under renewed scrutiny. His support for the 1994 crime bill has been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats, who argue that it led to mass incarceration and tilted the system unfairly against African Americans.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), one of Biden’s rivals for the Democratic nomination, offered a preview Monday morning of what is expected to come on the debate stage. “It’s not enough to tell us what you’re going to do for our communities, show us what you’ve done for the last 40 years,” Booker wrote on Twitter. “You created this system. We’ll dismantle it.”

The full "Biden Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice" is available at this link, and it merits a read in full because it has a number of interesting elements. Here are a few excerpts from the start and from parts that caught my eye (without links and formatting):

Today, too many people are incarcerated in the United States — and too many of them are black and brown.  To build safe and healthy communities, we need to rethink who we’re sending to jail, how we treat those in jail, and how we help them get the health care, education, jobs, and housing they need to successfully rejoin society after they serve their time.  As president, Joe Biden will strengthen America’s commitment to justice and reform our criminal justice system.

The Biden Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice is based on several core principles:

-- We can and must reduce the number of people incarcerated in this country while also reducing crime. No one should be incarcerated for drug use alone. Instead, they should be diverted to drug courts and treatment.  Reducing the number of incarcerated individuals will reduce federal spending on incarceration.  These savings should be reinvested in the communities impacted by mass incarceration....

-- Our criminal justice system cannot be just unless we root out the racial, gender, and income-based disparities in the system.... 

-- Our criminal justice system must be focused on redemption and rehabilitation. Making sure formerly incarcerated individuals have the opportunity to be productive members of our society is not only the right thing to do, it will also grow our economy....

-- Create a new $20 billion competitive grant program to spur states to shift from incarceration to prevention.  To accelerate criminal justice reform at the state and local levels, Biden will create a new grant program inspired by a proposal by the Brennan Center.  States, counties, and cities will receive funding to invest in efforts proven to reduce crime and incarceration, including efforts to address some of the factors like illiteracy and child abuse that are correlated with incarceration.  In order to receive this funding, states will have to eliminate mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes, institute earned credit programs, and take other steps to reduce incarceration rates without impacting public safety....

-- Establish an independent Task Force on Prosecutorial Discretion.  Law enforcement officials’ decisions regarding when to arrest, when to charge, and what charges to bring are critical decision-points in our criminal justice system.  The charges, for example, can dramatically impact not only what sentence someone ends up with but also whether they are compelled to take a plea bargain.  The Biden Administration will create a new task force, placed outside of the U.S. Department of Justice, to make recommendations for tackling discrimination and other problems in our justice system that results from arrest and charging decisions....

-- Eliminate mandatory minimums. Biden supports an end to mandatory minimums. As president, he will work for the passage of legislation to repeal mandatory minimums at the federal level. And, he will give states incentives to repeal their mandatory minimums.

-- End, once and for all, the federal crack and powder cocaine disparity.  The Obama-Biden Administration successfully narrowed the unjustified disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences.  The Biden Administration will eliminate this disparity completely, as then-Senator Biden proposed in 2007.  And, Biden will ensure that this change is applied retroactively.

-- Decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions.  Biden believes no one should be in jail because of cannabis use.  As president, he will decriminalize cannabis use and automatically expunge prior convictions.  And, he will support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes, leave decisions regarding legalization for recreational use up to the states, and reschedule cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts.

-- End all incarceration for drug use alone and instead divert individuals to drug courts and treatment. Biden believes that no one should be imprisoned for the use of illegal drugs alone. Instead, Biden will require federal courts to divert these individuals to drug courts so they receive treatment to address their substance use disorder. He’ll incentivize states to put the same requirements in place. And, he’ll expand funding for federal, state, and local drug courts.

-- Eliminate the death penalty. Over 160 individuals who’ve been sentenced to death in this country since 1973 have later been exonerated. Because we cannot ensure we get death penalty cases right every time, Biden will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example.  These individuals should instead serve life sentences without probation or parole.

-- Use the president’s clemency power to secure the release of individuals facing unduly long sentences for certain non-violent and drug crimes. President Obama used his clemency power more than any of the 10 prior presidents. Biden will continue this tradition and broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes.

July 23, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Senator Cory Booker proposes bold "second look" resentencing law

Continuing his pattern of putting forth bold criminal justice reform proposals, Senator Cory Booker is now promoting a notable new second look sentencing law.  This new NBC News article, headlined "Cory Booker aims to give aging prisoners 'a second look': The Democratic presidential candidate is unveiling new legislation to take prison reform another step forward," provides some of the details.  Here are excerpts:

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is unveiling new legislation that would give more federal prisoners the chance at early release, building on perviously passed criminal justice reform that some supporters say didn't go far enough.

The First Step Act, passed in 2018, was a rare bipartisan feat in Congress, bringing some of the most liberal and conservative lawmakers together with President Donald Trump to enact the biggest reforms to the criminal justice system since the tough-on-crime laws of the 1980s and 1990s.  While the new law led to the release of thousands of federal inmates, thousands more were ineligible.

William Underwood, 65 years years old, is one inmate who wasn't eligible for release under the First Step Act.  He has been in federal prison for 30 years, convicted of conspiracy, racketeering and non-violent drug-related crimes.  Although it was his first felony conviction, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole under mandatory sentencing guidelines.

Booker, who first met Underwood in 2016, says he's a prime example of the kind prisoner who should be eligible for release.  He points to Underwood's age, the time he's already served and his record of good behavior as as reasons why more reforms are needed, noting that even the prison guards have said Underwood doesn’t belong there.

Booker’s legislation would address people like Underwood.  The Matthew Charles and William Underwood Second Look Act, named after Underwood and Charles, the first person released because of the First Step Act, would give those serving long sentences a second chance.

The bill would also give people who have served more than ten years an opportunity to petition the court for release. And for prisoners over the age of 50, they would be offered the presumption of release, which means the the judge would have to show that the inmate should remain behind bars because they are a threat to society.

The measure likely faces an uphill battle in part because it would shift the burden onto the judicial system to make the case that a prisoner should remain locked up. Another component that is expected to be controversial is that there is no exclusions for certain crimes.  (The type of crimes included in the First Step Act encompassed low-level, non-violent crimes.)  Booker’s office argues that it would be much tougher for someone convicted of a violent crime to be released because a court must find that the inmate is not a risk and the inmate must show readiness to re-enter society....

“I hope that this creates a much bigger pathway for people to be released, to save taxpayer dollars, to reunite families,” Booker said.  “This system of mass incarceration that now has more African Americans under criminal supervision than all the slaves in 1850 is an unjust system, and I intend to do everything I can to tear down the system of mass incarceration."

Booker was instrumental in the passage of the First Step Act, which had the support of President Donald Trump under the direction of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Kim Kardashian.  As a presidential candidate he’s running against a number of candidates introducing plans revolving around criminal justice and his bill is a direct response to frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, who was critical to the passage of the tough-on-crime bills of the 80s and 90s.  Biden is expected to unveil a criminal justice reform plan in the coming weeks, which is expected to include a prohibition on mandatory minimum sentences.

Prior recent related post:

UPDATE: Over at Crime & Consequences, Kent Scheidegger has this extended post looking into the backstory of William Underwood under the title "A Poster Boy for the Long-Sentenced, Non-Violent Drug Offender?".  Here is a snippet from Kent's review of his underlying conviction:

[Here is part of the] Second Circuit's decision on the original appeal, which is published. See United States v. Underwood, 932 F.2d 1049 (2d Cir. 1991), cert denied 502 U.S. 942 (1991):

"The government's evidence at trial showed that from the 1970's until his arrest in late 1988, Underwood supervised and controlled an extensive and extremely violent narcotics trafficking operation involving a number of murders and conspiracies to murder, a highly organized network for the street-level distribution of heroin and the importation of large quantities of heroin from Europe to the United States.  The government presented the testimony of more than 50 witnesses, including a number of former members of Underwood's street-level distribution organization, and introduced more than 250 exhibits."  Id. at 1051.

July 15, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Mayor Pete Buttigeig's new "Douglass Plan" hit lots of criminal justice reform high points

Frederick-Douglass2With still so many candidates still jockeying for position, I am still not paying all that much attention to statements coming from all the contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President.  But a big, bold plan set out by one candidate this a week caught my eye.

As Vox details in this piece, this week Mayor Pete Buttigieg introduced this notable new platform titled "The Douglass Plan: A Comprehensive Investment in the Empowerment of Black America."  Here is the not-so-modest introduction from the website about the plan's name and ambition: "Inspired by American hero Frederick Douglass and comparable in scale to the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II, the Douglass Plan dismantles old systems and structures that inhibit prosperity and builds new ones that will unlock the collective potential of Black America."

The Douglass Plan quite rightly gives considerable attention to "Criminal Justice Reform," with nearly a quarter of this 18-page document focused on this topic.  Here are some of the most notable headings and stressed statements from this part of the report:

[We will] ensure more people are free by significantly reducing the number of people incarcerated in the United States at both the federal and state level by 50%....

We will double funding for federal grants for states that commit to criminal justice reform, and prioritize funding for programs aimed at pretrial reforms, decarceration, and expansion of alternative to incarceration (ATI) programs....

We will, on the federal level, eliminate incarceration for drug possession, reduce sentences for other drug offenses and apply these reductions retroactively, legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions....

We will eliminate mandatory minimums....

We will commute the sentences of people who are incarcerated in the federal system beyond what justice warrants by establishing an independent clemency commission that sits outside the Department of Justice....

We will fight the profit motive in the criminal justice system, including by abolishing private federal prisons....

We will reduce the criminalization of poverty and its link to incarceration....

We will appoint an Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, and U.S. Sentencing Commissioners who are committed to the fundamental transformation of the criminal justice system. We will ensure that the federal bench includes more women and people of color.  We will also prioritize deepening the experience of the bench by appointing former public defenders and civil rights attorneys who share a commitment to the protection and expansion of civil rights and civil liberties....

We will support a constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty....

We 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 view the use of solitary confinement in excess of 15 days as per se torture.

We will ensure people who are incarcerated have access to education, health care, and rehabilitation....

[We will] protect the freedom for people with criminal convictions to fully integrate into society by providing the tools necessary for success, while reducing government intrusion in people’s lives.

We will significantly reduce the use of supervised release on the federal level by limiting it to two years, cutting burdensome requirements and technical constraints, and making it harder to be sent back to prison for small violations of the terms of release.

I have cut out a lot of supportive text as well as some additional proposals, and so I highly recommend the document in full for anyone and everyone eager to see what a bold criminal justice reform platform looks like.  This CNN piece from last week reported that former VP Joe Biden was developing a reform plan that is to be "research-based and will be among the most progressive of all the 2020 candidates."  I will be quite impress if Biden comes up with something even more progressive than what Mayor Pete has now put forward.

July 13, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 01, 2019

Urging US Sentencing Commission to "undertake a top-to-bottom review" of harsh federal sentencing guidelines

I am very pleased to see US District Judge Lynn Adelman taking to the pages of the Washington Post to pen this new opinion piece under the headline "There’s another tough-on-crime law Democrats should focus their criticism on." I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Some of the Democratic presidential candidates have criticized the tough-on-crime legislation enacted during the 1980s and 1990s, arguing that it contributed to the mass incarceration that shames the country today.  The candidates and other critics have focused on the 1994 crime bill, which provided incentives for states to build more prisons and impose longer sentences, and the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established harsh sentences for drug offenses, particularly those involving crack cocaine.

The criticism of these provisions is entirely justified.  But not enough attention has been paid to another 1980s-era tough-on-crime law that is still very much with us, causing substantial unnecessary incarceration, particularly of African Americans and Hispanics: the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act.

Among its “reforms,” the law eliminated parole for federal offenders and created the U.S. Sentencing Commission that then promulgated the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  The act, the commission and the guidelines have been a disaster, and a debate by lawmakers about their status is long overdue.  As a result of the sentencing guidelines, as well as sentencing practices in state courts, the United States is now an outlier not just among democracies but among all nations....

The commission established harsh sentencing guidelines and barred judges from putting defendants on probation except in rare instances.  Over the next 20 years, the commission regularly amended the guidelines, making them even more severe.

The average federal sentence increased from 28 to 50 months afterward and, with the abolition of parole, the average time that a defendant served increased from 13 to 43 months....   Between 1987 and 2019, the federal prison population increased from about 50,000 to 219,000 before dropping to about 180,000.  In 2005, with the landmark decision in United States v. Booker, the Supreme Court struck down the mandatory feature of the guidelines, giving judges the opportunity to establish a less punitive sentencing regime.  In subsequent decisions, the court made clear that judges had no obligation to follow the guidelines.

Unfortunately, district court judges have largely failed to take advantage of Booker to ameliorate the harshness of the federal sentencing system.  After Booker, judges slightly reduced the length of sentences, from 47.9 months in fiscal 2003, to 44 months in 2018.  Shockingly, the number of offenders receiving prison-only sentences actually increased, from 83.3 percent in fiscal 2003 to 87.8 percent in fiscal 2018.  The sentencing commission could lead the way in pressing judges to take Booker to heart, given the commission’s considerable authority regarding federal sentencing policies, but it has provided little leadership.  For too long, the commission has focused instead on trying to minimize inter-judge disparities in sentencing.

The commissioners might better understand the impact of its policies if they ventured outside Washington and held public hearings in urban and rural America about federal sentencing guidelines.  Hearing firsthand about the devastating effect on families of the United States’ punitive approach, particularly in drug cases, might open some commissioners’ eyes.

Ideally, the commission would then undertake a top-to-bottom review of the guidelines, with an eye toward recommending as many noncustodial sentences as possible and reducing the length of prison sentences.  Putting a dent in federal mass incarceration would set an example for state correctional systems.

In fairness, the commission in recent years has taken some important steps in the right direction.  Particularly significant was its 2014 decision to reduce all drug guidelines by two levels and to make the policy retroactive, thereby reducing sentences for some 32,000 prisoners.  Congress’s recently enacted First Step Act was another move in the right direction, addressing the disparity in punishment for offenses involving crack and powder cocaine. But more needs to be done to reset a system that has done untold harm over the past three decades.  At a minimum, the Sentencing Reform Act should be substantially revised.  Congress was foolish to have abolished parole and should overturn that decision.

This commentary provides a terrific and needed reminder that the Booker decision did not considerably mute the punitive impact of harsh sentencing guidelines (even though I think it has tended to considerably mute the amount of criticism of these guidelines). As mentioned in this post last week, right now the US Sentencing Commission is unable to function fully because it only has two of seven Commissioner slots filled. So "public hearings in urban and rural America" in conjunction with a "top-to-bottom review" of the guidelines cannot really happen unless and until we get a slate of new Commissioners with an interest in such an agenda. I hope this piece gets those folks in the campaigns and on Capitol Hill who are really committed to criminal justice reform to be thinking about the potential that a reform-oriented Commission might have.

July 1, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Expecting (good?) criminal justice reform questions in the coming Democratic debates

Long-time readers know I cannot resist gearing up for big Presidential debates by suggesting some criminal justice and sentencing questions I would like to hear asked and encouraging readers to do the same.  (And if you want to see how the shape and nature of the criminal justice debate evolves in four-year increments, you might enjoy looking through this blog's archive of posts connected to Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues and Campaign 2012 and sentencing issues and Campaign 2016 and sentencing issues.)

This new Time piece purports to tell you "Everything You Need to Know" with the first Democratic debate(s) slated for later this week.  The Time article mentions some of the topics sure to arise during the debates (e.g., Medicare for All, student debt, Green New Deal), but it does not flag criminal justice issues.  Still, for the first time that I can remember, I will genuinely be surprised if these debates fail to explore some hot-button criminal justice reform issues that actually do (somewhat) divide the Dem field such as prisoner voting, the death penalty, marijuana reform and even clemency powers.

Given that we are still more than six months away from even the first primary or caucus votes, I expect I will have plenty of time to suggest some good and tough questions for various debates.  For today, I will have fun suggesting a question that I know will never be asked but interests me very much:

Proposed question: "Given stated concerns about mass incarceration and criminal justice reforms, and especially given the challenges of implementing the FIRST STEP Act, do you think it is especially problematic that the US Sentencing Commission has lacked a full slate of Commissioners for all of the Trump Administration and now lacks a quorum for completing any work?  If so, can you name a few people whom you might consider appointing to the Sentencing Commission, and do you feel confident these appointees could quickly secure Senate confirmation?"

Because this is such an "inside baseball" kind of issue, this might be perceived as more of a "gotcha" question (especially given that then-candidate Barack Obama said some some foolish things about federal sentencing issues back in summer 2007 that showed an ignorance about the USSC's work).  But I would really like to see the current problems with the US Sentencing Commission highlighted in a high-profile setting, and I think a question about the USSC could quickly reveal who really understands how the federal criminal justice system operates structurally.

As always for these posts, I welcome reader feedback on my question as well as other suggested questions for the many, many coming debates.

June 25, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Which Presidential Candidate Would Give David Barren His Freedom?"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Filter commentary authored by Rory Fleming.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

David Barren is a Black man from Pittsburgh who was sentenced in 2010 to life without parole in the federal criminal justice system.  That was during President Obama’s tenure — despite his heavily implying that no one should serve more than 20 years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense — and while Attorney General Eric Holder ran the Department of Justice.

Barren was accused of leading a conspiracy involving the distribution of over 150 kilograms of cocaine — though trial transcripts show that federal prosecutors, the defense attorney and the judge had huge difficulty determining how much cocaine there really was.  While the government claimed that there was $1.2 million of drug money to be seized, court documents show it was $76,000 plus Barren’s house, worth approximately $500,000.

Anrica Caldwell, Barren’s fiancée, believes that federal prosecutors on the case demanded life in retaliation for his actually taking them to trial — something of a unicorn in the federal justice system, in which 97 percent of cases end in plea deals.  At least one of his co-conspirators got only four years in prison for the conspiracy, after testifying against Barren.

Obama felt bad for him, but only to a point. He commuted Barren’s sentence to 30 years on his final day in office.  As Barren himself wrote in an email to Reason reporter CJ Ciaramella, he got a “reduction from LIFE in letters, to life in letters and numbers.”

Caldwell, an elementary school teacher in Pittsburgh, is the vice president of CAN-DO, an organization that tirelessly fights for clemency for nonviolent federal drug prisoners. “Baby, I’m gonna die in here,” Barren told her in a call from prison in January 2017.  He is currently 54, and not due to be released until 2034....

But at least one presidential candidate, Senator Cory Booker — recognizing that as things stand, nothing is going to change in time to save people like Barren — is going for broke. Indeed, Booker’s new clemency plan aims at reducing sentences for potentially tens of thousands of people serving federal time for drugs.  Unlike Obama, he said he would do it by executive order — constituting a White House clemency recommendation panel that is not hamstrung by the US Department of Justice, which currently houses the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

This would arguably represent the first time in US history that a president told federal line prosecutors to stuff their hyper-carceral, alarmist agenda.  Obama buckled significantly to their pressure by leaving many people like Barren out to dry on de facto life sentences. “People assume that Obama’s clemency initiative means 1,700 people are kicking their feet up now at home,” said Caldwell, “and that’s just not true.”

Barren’s case is pending before the Trump White House for additional clemency relief, and Caldwell hopes this could be seen as an opportunity for Trump to prove he is serious about the issue before an election year.

Two other presidential candidates could follow Booker’s ambitious clemency reasoning.  In the Queens District Attorney race, perhaps the biggest criminal justice referendum of the year, both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have joined liberal media in endorsing Tiffany Cabán, who promises more proportional sanctions for both nonviolent and violent crime.

Sanders and Warren should talk about their plans for criminal justice reform in more detail, as it is the biggest civil rights issue of our time.  Would they give a man like David Barren a chance? Or would they, too, let his clock run out before he can see his loved ones from outside of the bars?

A few of many older and recent related posts: 

June 25, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Clemency and Pardons, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Rounding up of some political criminal justice reform stories as 2020 election kicks into next chapter

The next phase of the 2020 election season gets started this coming week with the first of what seems likely to be too many Democratic primary debates.  As long-time blog readers know, I always get (too?) excited by what different folks might say on the trail about criminal justice issues, and this season it seem likely that criminal justice issues will get far more attention than any time in recent memory.  Consequently, I am not surprised to be seeing already a number of media stories and commentaries about criminal justice chatter amidst the campaign, and I expect to be having lots to blog about on this front in the months to come.  For now, here is a round up of just a few pieces I have seen this past week in this arena:

June 22, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 27, 2019

Is Joe Biden really "one of the most progressive federal lawmakers in terms of criminal justice policy"?

In part because there are so many Democratic candidates, I have not yet been following all too closely the various discussions surrounding various candidates' statements and histories on crime and punishment.  But because Joe Biden has apparently emerged as a front-runner, and because he has quite the track-record on these issues, I cannot resist some (still very early) coverage of Uncle Joe's place in this space.  In particular, I find notable this recent USA Today commentary by Prof James Alan Fox, which is headlined "Joe Biden reduced murders, reformed criminal justice policy and made America safer." A line from the piece prompted the question in the title of this post, and here is the context:

[R]ecent allegations that Biden bears responsibility for the nation’s mass incarceration problem is not only inaccurate, but downright insulting to a man who has distinguished himself as one of the most progressive federal lawmakers in terms of criminal justice policy.

The years leading up to the much-discussed 1994 Crime Bill were challenging, to say the least, with violent crime rates soaring to record levels.  From 1990 through 1993, for example, nearly 100,000 Americans were murdered, two-thirds by guns, more than in any other similar time span, before or after.  Something had to be done, and Biden had the political will and skill to translate good ideas into effective policy.

As early as 1990, Biden, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, recognized and responded to the growing crisis by holding hearings on the nation’s homicide epidemic.  In his introductory remarks, he talked of the 3-Ds — deadly weapons, drugs and demographics.

Biden’s observations were spot on.  The surge in homicide at that time was exclusively among teens and young adults, completely gun-related, and linked to the emerging crack cocaine markets in major cities from New York to Los Angeles.  While the subsequent concern for sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine was legitimate, it was crack, not powder, that drove the crime surge some three decades ago.

Biden’s approach was clearly more preventative than punitive.  At the 1990 hearing, for example, he called for investing in drug education for youth and drug treatment for addicts.  In contrast, Sen. Alan Spector, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, argued instead for tougher prosecution and expanding the death penalty.

While it is true that Biden had a major hand in crafting the Crime Bill, his was not the only one, as passage of the massive piece of legislation required bipartisan support and thus much compromise. Reflecting Biden’s influence, the final version of the Crime Bill included over $7 billion for a basket of prevention programs.  However, once Republicans took control of Congress in the 1994 midterms, it became more like a trash basket of prevention.

The Republican “Contract with America” set a new path, shifting the emphasis from early prevention to harsh punishment.  The Contract promised “an anti-crime package including stronger truth-in-sentencing, ‘good faith’ exclusionary rule exemptions, effective death penalty provisions, and cuts in social spending from this summer’s ‘crime’ bill to fund prison construction and additional law enforcement to keep people secure in their neighborhoods and kids safe in their schools.”  It had become a political liability to advocate prevention.

Whatever share of responsibility that Biden may own for the growth in prison populations over the next decade or more, he should be praised for his central role in pushing legislation that saved thousands of lives.  He was instrumental in helping to get the Brady Law through Congress, after which the nation’s rate of gun homicide started its long-term slide.  He was the chief proponent and author of the Violence Against Women Act, an initiative that helped lower the rate of women murdered by their intimate partners by more than 25% in subsequent years.

The streets of American cities are much safer today than a quarter-century ago before wide-ranging changes in federal crime control policy were enacted. Taken together, Joe Biden deserves credit, not criticism, for all that he has done throughout this career to reduce the number of crime victims and for providing assistance to those unfortunate to become one.

This commentary provides an important reminder that crime rates were so very much higher in the 1980s and 1990s, and thus any look back at crime and punishment policy (and crime and punishment politics) has to be attentive to that reality.  But calling Biden "one of the most progressive federal lawmakers in terms of criminal justice policy" still seems a little rich.

UPDATE: Intriguingly, Prez Trump yesterday afternoon and evening tweeted the following:

I doubt Prez Trump reads this blog, so I am not going to assert that these tweets were a direct response to the question in the title of this post.  But I do think it is an interesting and important indication that Prez Trump is inclined to promote his criminal justice reform record in any battles with Joe Biden.  It also perhaps provides an important opportunity for reform advocates to urge Prez Trump and his Administration to keep moving forward with critical follow-ups to the FIRST STEP Act.

May 27, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, May 06, 2019

Urging Prez candidates to urge bold criminal justice changes looking beyond incarceration levels

Sara Wakefield and Kristin Turney have this notable new Hill commentary headlined "In 2020, we need bold ideas for criminal justice reform too."  Here are excerpts:

As the 2020 election quickly approaches, Democratic candidates are presenting bold ideas about a wide variety of issues including climate change, inequality, national paid leave, filibuster reform, student loans, and Medicare for All. Few ideas are too ambitious for the base, even though many would require major structural changes to American institutions and civic life.

Then, there’s the issue of justice. Criminal justice reform and mass incarceration get talked about, correctly, as racial justice issues that need to be addressed, but no one has proposed radical changes to how we approach crime and punishment in America. It’s time for 2020 candidates to think as boldly about criminal justice as they are about health care and climate change.

Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) “Next Step Act” currently comes closest to a bold proposal, taking on police officer training, the conditions of confinement, and expungement procedures. Yet, even this proposal includes the sentencing reforms and reentry assistance proposals we’re used to seeing. Our collective focus, and the focus of popular criminal justice reform laws like the FIRST STEP Act, remains on a late stage of criminal justice contact: incarceration.

Prison incarceration is, of course, a consequential event, but many more millions of people engage with our inefficient and repressive criminal justice system — through arrests, misdemeanor convictions, parole and probation, the bail industry, and the accumulation of fines and fees. People don’t have to be sentenced to prison to have life-altering interactions with the criminal justice system, and our leaders need to think about these experiences too. In 2016, for example, 70 percent of the roughly 646,000 Americans in local jails on any given day had not been convicted of anything, largely remaining in jail due to their inability to make bail or because they violated the conditions of probation and parole....

Presidential candidates should also consider how much our criminal justice system impacts lives after someone has served time. In 2016, almost 7 million people were under some form of correctional supervision, such as parole or probation. The most common reentry proposals are aimed at improving the labor market prospects of the formerly incarcerated. We applaud these efforts, but people who lack health care and a stable home may struggle to find and keep a job. Discussions of health care and housing policy that ignore the formerly incarcerated ignore a population with the most significant health care problems and housing instability in the country....

By focusing on reforming incarceration only, we are obscuring a broader landscape of pain for millions of Americans. To truly begin on a path toward criminal justice reform, we need our leaders to think in terms of new deals, guarantees, and sweeping legislation that could impact more Americans, like they do on climate and health care. The type of country we want to have depends on these decisions.

May 6, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Assembling criminal justice questions for the 2020 Prez field

Writing in the Washington Post, the Radley Balko is playing a great game of 20 questions in the form of this commentary headlined "Here are 20 criminal-justice and civil liberties questions for the 2020 contenders." I recommend the piece in full, in part because he lists a lot more than 20 questions (as my partial imprint reveals).  Here is part of its lead-in and a few of my favorite questions:

The 2020 campaign will likely present voters with the sharpest contrast on criminal-justice and civil-liberties policy in recent memory.  Most of the announced candidates for the Democratic nomination are pro-immigration and gun regulation and anti-death penalty and mass incarceration — all stances that put them at odds with President Trump. Many also have said they believe there is racial bias in the criminal-justice system and have expressed sympathy for police critics such as Black Lives Matter, again in sharp contrast to Trump.

So here’s a list of the questions I would pose to the Democratic field as a whole. (I’ll posit individualized questions based on the candidates’ records at a later date, when the field narrows down a bit.)  Feel free to leave your own questions in the comments....

5. Almost all of you favor the legalization of marijuana. Would you consider pardoning everyone who has been convicted in federal court on charges exclusively related to possession, sale or transport of marijuana?  What is your more general opinion of the pardon power?  Should it be used more often, less often?  Should it be used to grant mercy and redemption on guilty people, or as a check against injustices against potentially innocent people?...

10.  Numerous surveys and studies have shown that for much of the country, public defenders are underfunded, understaffed and overworked.  Some would argue that this imperils the Sixth Amendment rights of criminal defendants, and that under the Fourteenth Amendment, the federal government is obligated to step in to protect those rights. Do you agree?  If so, what should the federal government do to guarantee an adequate defense for indigent defendants?...

14.  Most of you say you are against the death penalty.  As president, you will have the power to commute sentences. For those of you who are against the death penalty, will you commit to commuting the sentences of everyone on federal death row? Will you vow that your administration will not seek any new death sentences?....

18.  Nearly all of you say you support reforming the criminal-justice system and ending mass incarceration. The criminologist John Pfaff, among others, has shown that to truly end mass incarceration, we’ll need to not just release nonviolent offenders but also rethink how we treat violent offenders.  We now know that from about the age of 25 on, the probability of recidivism among violent offenders drops significantly.  Would you support a policy that allows for the release of or shorter sentences for some violent offenders?

19.  There hasn’t been a justice on the Supreme Court with criminal defense experience since Thurgood Marshall retired.  Only a few justices since Marshall have had any criminal law experience at all. Do you think this is a problem? Would you consider appointing someone to the court with a significant criminal defense background?

I have a lot more questions in mind for the 2020 field with much more of a sentencing focus, but it still feels a bit too early for getting them all revved up. But readers should not feel shy about chiming in now.

May 5, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Are more re-enfranchised former offenders now registering as Republicans rather than as Democrats?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable New York Sun piece headlined "Trump’s ‘First Step’ Toward 2020."  Here are excerpts:

Could President Trump’s bipartisan criminal justice reform — known as the First Step Act — prove to be a first step in a political revolution?  We ask because of a startling disclosure by one of the President’s shrewdest lieutenants in the campaign for First Step, Jared Kushner.  It turns out, he said, that greater numbers of ex-cons being granted suffrage in Florida are registering as Republicans.

Mr. Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, dropped that surprise almost in passing toward the end of an interview with Laura Ingraham. The interview was mainly about the First Step Act celebrated Monday at the White House. Toward the end of the interview, though, they chatted about the Democratic field. Ms. Ingraham popped one of those classic one-word questions: “Socialism?”

“I don’t think that’s where the country is,” Mr. Kushner said. “One statistic that I found very pleasing is that in Florida they passed a law where former felons can now vote. We’ve had more ex-felons register as Republicans than Democrats, and I think they see the reforms . . .”  Ms. Ingraham cut in: “Whoa, whoa, whoa. You’ve had more ex-felons register as Republicans than Democrats?”

“That’s the data that I’ve seen,” replied Mr. Kushner. “I think that will surprise a lot of people when they see the new coalition that President Trump is building for what the Republican Party has the potential to be.”

No doubt it would be a mistake to make too much of this.  It’s been but months since Florida amended its constitution to restore voting rights to felons.  It will take years for the effects to show up in voter registration and at the polls.  Yet it would be a mistake to make too little of it, as well.  Particularly because we’ve had some — not to put too fine a point on it — close races in the Sunshine State.

Florida’s constitutional amendment, after all, restored, at least de jure, suffrage to something like 1.5 million ex-cons, according to the various press accounts. The Democrats were the party pushing for putting these men and women back on the voting rolls.  That brings Florida in line with most states.  The party seems to have taken for granted that they will reap the advantage.

That could prove to be yet another underestimation of Mr. Trump.  We’re not predicting that, just marking the possibility.  The video of the event at the White House to celebrate the the First Step Act underscores the point. It is, we don’t mind saying, breathtaking and worth watching in full. It illuminates the President’s abilities as an inclusive, bipartisan leader....

It’s not our purpose to suggest that the First Step Act is without issues (it was opposed by a number of the most conservative senators). Our purpose is to mark that while the Democrats are trying to get out of first gear — they’re still focused on the Mueller report — Mr. Trump is setting up his 2020 strategy in a highly premeditated way, one that the Democrats seem determined to underestimate yet again.

I am really drawn to this New York Sun piece for a host of reasons.  First and foremost, I agree with the assertion that, as I noted here, last week's event at the White House to celebrate the the FIRST STEP Act was breathtaking and worth watching in full (via this twitter link).  In addition, though I would like to see first-hand data out of Florida on re-enfranchised registrations, the specifics may matter less than that Jared Kushner believes (and is surely telling his father) that criminal justice reform and re-enfranchisement efforts have real political potential for the Republican party. 

Many years ago, I urged in posts and in Daily Beast commentary that then-Prez-candidate Mitt Romney should embrace "Right on Crime" rhetoric about the need for criminal justice reforms in order to help the Republican party appeal more to younger voters and voter of color.  Jared Kushner clearly seems to tapping into these ideas when talking up a "new coalition that President Trump is building for what the Republican Party has the potential to be."  The event celebrating the FIRST STEP Act suggests a willingness, even an eagerness, for this White House to double down on criminal justice reform because they sense a distinct political opportunity as good politics starts to match up with better policies in this space.  This reality bodes well for future reform efforts no matter who is truly getting the bulk of the benefit from re-enfranchised voters.

Finally, politics aside, there is no good reason in my view to disenfranchise categorically any class of competent voters (and my basic thinking on this front was effectively explained in this Big Think piece years ago headlined "Let Prisoners Vote").  The long-standing perception that re-enfranchisement efforts would help Democrats a lot more than Republicans has contributed to political divisions over doing what is right and just, namely letting everyone have proper access to the franchise.  I hope development in Florida and elsewhere can undermine the belief that only one party benefits from re-enfranchisement efforts so that both parties can fully support the fundamental commitment to democracy that re-enfranchisement represents. 

A few prior related recent posts:

April 7, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Collateral consequences, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, April 06, 2019

"Making Jail a Last Resort" or "If Prisons Don’t Work, What Will?"

The title of this post are the two somewhat different (bad) headlines I have seen for this great New York Times commentary authored by Emily Bazelon (whose great timely new book is titled "Charged: The New Movement to Transform Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration.")  I am much more partial to the first headline than the second, but neither comes close to capturing effectively the spirit and themes of the wide-ranging piece.  So, go read the full piece, and here are some extended excerpts:

The United States spends far too much money locking up far too many people for far too long. A few years ago, a politician had to be brave to say anything like that out loud. Now it’s a mainstream and bipartisan view....  It’s all pretty head-spinning after decades of elected officials competing to lock more people up and spotlight the scariest crimes. Now, with public opinion shifting far and fast and politicians hurrying to catch up, you could even argue that criminal justice reform has become the new marriage equality in terms of the turnaround in public attitudes.

That presents a major opportunity for Democratic presidential candidates.  But for all the energy behind reform, no presidential candidate has articulated a big, comprehensive vision for transformational change.  There’s a consensus that the system is broken, but no agreement on how to fix it.  The presidential candidate looking to distinguish herself might start by looking at a new wave of reform-minded district attorneys who are challenging conventional law-and-order approaches in red states and blue ones.

For the candidates, thematically, a starting point should be that wealth should not determine a person’s fate in court, and profit should not drive the system.  Bail bonds, privatized probation and corporate-run prisons are parasitic features of the justice system.  Ending cash bail should be at the top of every candidate’s criminal justice agenda.  So should getting rid of fines and fees that help fund local governments but trap people in cycles of debt....

To end mass incarceration, however, exempting nonviolent offenses from jail time isn’t enough.  People convicted of violent crimes make up more than half of the country’s state prison population. But the image of prisons overflowing with murderers and rapists is wrong.  In many states, “violent felonies” include offenses like breaking into an empty house or snatching a purse or iPhone on the street.  Reducing sentences for these offenses — and changing what counts as a violent felony to begin with — is a good way to start lowering this share of the prison population.

And that fits in with a second theme for candidates: People deserve a second chance, because many grow and change. They robbed to feed an addiction and then got sober. They assaulted someone because they were mentally ill and then got treatment and stabilized. They mature as they age beyond their teens and early 20s.  That’s why it makes sense to reconsider how long a person should stay in prison after doing some time....

Parole offers another opening for second chances. In Texas, says Scott Henson, an activist who blogs at the site Grits for Breakfast, “our parole rates have gone from 15 percent to the high 30s in the last decade,” He said the increase is “having more impact than any bill we’ve passed even through the legislature.” He thinks the reason for the rise is a humdrum logistical one: The state unofficially uses parole as a way to reduce prison overcrowding.

We should also focus on redefining the terms of the public safety debate.  Ending mass incarceration, and ensuring fairness throughout the criminal justice system, aren’t in tension with public safety.  They’re integral to it.  People tend to uphold the law when they believe it’s reasonable and applied evenly.  When people have that faith, they are more likely to help the police solve crimes....

Finally, incarceration should be the last resort, not the default.  In Brooklyn, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez has said this idea is central to his tenure.  His counterpart in Boston, Rachael Rollins, last month instructed prosecutors to ask for jail only “when any other recommendation would compromise” safety.  When no other option than jail or prison will do, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of people who go in also get out. Making sure they have the tools to lead productive lives when they emerge — like job training and access to decent housing — is a public good.

Presidents don’t actually control the key levers of the American punishment machine.  About 80 percent of the people who are locked up today are in state and local jails and prisons.  But presidents, and presidential campaigns, can raise the profile of an issue and set a tone.  The way they talk about repairing our broken criminal justice system speaks loudly to broader issues about racial and wealth inequality. Presidents can also shape the behavior of states and cities with funding and other incentives, like redirecting money to treatment and prevention programs.

Were I in charge of devising a headline for this piece, I might go with something like "How Prosecutors and Presidential Candidates Advance Criminal Justice Reform." But this is not the first, nor will it be the last, great newspaper piece without a headline to serve it well.  Of course, the piece itself leaves out some important stories like the achievement of the FIRST STEP Act and the need for clemency reform (points recently stressed by Senator and Prez canadide Amy Klobuchar).  But there is so much getting done and needing to be done in this space now, it is hard to fault any piece of writing for not covering everything.

April 6, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, April 05, 2019

Senator Klobuchar talking up "second step" criminal justice reforms with a focus on the clemency process

Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is running for President and who served as a local prosecutor for eight years, has this notable new commentary at CNN running under the headline "On criminal justice reform, it's time for a second step." Here are excerpts:

Our criminal justice system is broken. Today we know that our country has more than 20% of the world's incarcerated people, even though we have less than 5% of the world's population.  And we know racial disparities at every level of our system have removed millions of people of color from our society, destroying families and communities for generations.

Thanks to the work of countless reform advocates, we have finally started to acknowledge that there is racism in our criminal justice system and that we need to take action to fight it.  But the next president will have to do more than just talk about these issues.  She will have to take action.

Our criminal justice system cannot lose sight of the principles of fairness and compassion -- for victims, yes, but also for offenders.  Our Founding Fathers understood this point when they gave the president the power to grant clemency....

As president, I would create a clemency advisory board as well as a position in the White House -- outside of the Department of Justice -- that advises the president from a criminal justice reform perspective.  Law professors such as Rachel E. Barkow from New York University and Mark Osler from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota have described what a better clemency system could look like.  Currently, the Department of Justice includes an Office of the Pardon Attorney, tasked with investigating and reviewing all requests for clemency for federal offenses and ultimately preparing a recommendation for the president.  Although the voices of our prosecutors and law enforcement officials are important and should continue to advise the president, there are additional voices that a president needs to hear.

A diverse, bipartisan clemency advisory board -- one that includes victim advocates as well as prison and sentencing reform advocates -- could look at this from a different perspective. And a criminal justice reform advocate in the White House will ensure that someone is advising the president on criminal justice reform.  That's why I'm committed to making these important changes during the first month of my presidency, should I be elected.

But we cannot solve the many problems associated with mass incarceration through better and smarter use of the presidential pardon alone.  Last year, we in Congress passed the First Step Act, which changed the overly harsh sentencing laws on nonviolent drug offenders and reformed our federal prisons.  But now it's time for the Second Step Act.

The reforms in the First Step Act only apply to those held in the federal system.  The new law doesn't help the nearly 90% of people incarcerated in state and local facilities.  One of my top priorities will be to create federal incentives so that states can restore some discretion from mandatory sentencing for nonviolent offenders and reform the unconscionable conditions in state prisons and local jails.

We have to do more to reduce inflexible mandatory minimums and add safety valves, building on the federal reforms we made last year.  True criminal justice reform includes the cash bail system, expanding funding for public defenders and eliminating obstacles to re-entering and participating fully in society.  That's why we also need better educational and job training programs that can help people both before and after they are released.

I'm also working to change the dialogue on drug and alcohol treatment and mental health services.  I did this in Minnesota as Hennepin County attorney, I've fought for expanded drug courts as a senator, and I'll make this a priority as president.

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear me praise the Senator's eagerness to change the clemency process. As long-time readers know, I started urging more clemency action from Prez Obama on the day he was elected and in 2010, I authored this law review article titled "Turning Hope-and-Change Talk Into Clemency Action for Nonviolent Drug Offenders," which closed with a recommendation that the president "seriously consider creating some form of a 'Clemency Commission'."   The advocacy in this commentary for the creation of a "diverse, bipartisan clemency advisory board" is truly music to my ears.

April 5, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Clemency and Pardons, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Spotlighting how "politicians are catching up with American voters" on criminal justice reforms

Alex Busansky and Eli Lehrer have this notable new Hill commentary under the headline "Voters are driving justice reform."  Here are excerpts:

When crime rates soared between the 1970s and early 1990s, Democrats and Republicans alike did everything possible to avoid being labeled “soft on crime.”  As crime has dropped, however, reforms that ease punitive measures, reduce correctional populations from the current level of more than 2.2 million, and give people who are formerly incarcerated a fresh start have become a bipartisan cause.  Results from the 2018 midterms, particularly ballot measures backed by voters, should provide important advice for gearing up for the 2020 cycle.  Criminal justice reform has become a winning issue with voters and advocates should pay heed.

Polling data make it clear how voters feel nationally. In a recent article, pollster Celinda Lake says that by a two to one margin, voters believe that our country relies too much on incarcerating people.  A national poll last year by Public Opinion Strategies showed that 68 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Independents, and 80 percent of Democrats support significant reform.  Places across the nation with very different politics have followed suit and moved towards significant justice system reforms....

This trend has lessons for what works at the state level and ought to give a significant tailwind to those looking to organize for the next cycle.  Efforts are already underway to make Nebraska and Mississippi the latest states to legalize medical marijuana.  This decriminalization of a drug that is now widely accepted is an important step because it reduces justice system involvement for many, particularly people of color, who are simply not dangerous to anyone.  Likewise, Los Angeles County recently approved a plan to close the downtown Men’s Central Jail, while killing a proposal to convert a detention facility into a women’s jail.  Next year, Los Angeles County voters will decide whether to pass a jail reform ballot measure.

Looking to 2020, citizens are already hearing justice reform touted by candidates of both parties. That is not surprising, and it is only going to increase.  Politicians are catching up with American voters, who have already realized that both easing some unnecessarily harsh measures and helping those who have made mistakes become productive members of society is not just a good and right idea, it is a winning campaign issue.

This piece gives some important (though necessarily incomplete) attention to the vole of ballot initiatives in the criminal justice reform movement. Especially in light of recent election cycles in which significant criminal justice reform has been enacted at the ballot in red states like Oklahoma and Florida, I think this is a story that cannot get too much attention and is worth of extended analysis.

April 4, 2019 in Campaign 2016 and sentencing issues, Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 25, 2019

Another useful reminder of the need for more criminal justice diversity on the federal bench

Long-time readers know I have been talking a long time about the prosecutorial tilt that impacts who gets nominated and confirmed for seats on the US Supreme Court and lower federal courts.  Encouragingly, the need for more balance in the courts is getting more attention as criminal justice reform continues to garner attention (especially among would-be Democratic Prez candidates).   Consider, for example, this piece on this topic at Slate by Kyle Barry under the headline "Democratic Presidential Candidates Should Promise to Appoint This Kind of Judge to the Federal Courts."  Here are  excerpts:

The lawyers who best understand the importance of [the Constitution's] basic protections, of course, are public defenders.  And the Supreme Court hasn’t had a justice with significant experience representing indigent criminal defendants since Thurgood Marshall, who founded the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, retired in 1991.  Two current justices — Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor — worked as prosecutors.  The rest have no hands-on experience with the criminal justice system, creating what Washington Post columnist Radley Balko has called a “massive blind spot” in the court’s decision-making.

This absence of experience extends beyond the Supreme Court to the entire federal judiciary.  Former public defenders are woefully underrepresented on both the trial-level district courts and the circuit courts of appeal, while experience as a prosecutor remains a common and largely unquestioned career path to the federal bench.

The issue is cross-partisan and deeply systemic.  Much like how the policies that created America’s mass incarceration crisis were bipartisan — with Republicans and Democrats competing to appear most tough on crime — so too has been the impulse to tap prosecutors over public defenders as federal judges.  According to the advocacy group Alliance for Justice, more than 40 percent of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees were prosecutors, outnumbering public defenders by three to one.

The problem has only worsened under President Donald Trump.  Trump’s judicial appointees lack diversity along any metric.  They are 91 percent white and 76 percent male.  Just one of his 91 confirmed judges is black.  Still, the lack of criminal defense experience is extreme.  By reviewing the Senate Judiciary Committee Questionnaires for all of Trump’s 143 confirmed or pending judicial nominees who have submitted one (a handful of recent nominees have not), I learned that not one has worked full-time as a state or federal public defender.  One, Clifton Corker, a pending nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, reports one year as a “volunteer” federal defender.  That’s it.

By contrast, more than one-third of Trump’s nominees have worked as prosecutors, including 38.3 percent of his district court nominees and 33.3 percent of his circuit court nominees.  And that’s with a narrow definition of “prosecutor” that excludes lawyers, like Gorsuch, who served in high-level executive branch positions but did not personally prosecute cases....

Obama’s penchant for choosing prosecutors culminated in the nomination of Merrick Garland, a former prosecutor, over Jane Kelly, a former public defender, to the Supreme Court in 2016.  Once Kelly, a judge on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was reported to be a finalist, conservative groups used her public defense experience to launch a smear campaign and paint her as a threat to law and order; an especially offensive tactic given that Kelly was herself the victim of a violent assault.  Yet it also betrayed an important truth: While Gideon’s promise of robust public defense is both celebrated and stigmatized, the stigma is baked into traditional notions of the ideal, critique-proof judicial nominee.  Prosecutors have faced no such hurdle.

For progressives, the Trump era has ignited perhaps unprecedented interest in the courts and judicial nominations.  On issues from immigration to the environment to voting rights, just to name a few, the federal courts have been the primary check on the Trump administration’s often cruel and discriminatory policies.  And Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, along with a flock of far-right and in many cases grossly incompetent nominees to the lower courts, sparked outrage that has echoed through the halls of Congress and beyond.

But what is the flip side of that outrage?  What kind of judicial nominees should progressives demand?  Part of the answer is obvious: more public defenders.  Indeed, a pledge to appoint at least as many public defenders as prosecutors to the federal bench is a tangible way for presidential candidates to show commitment to dismantling mass incarceration while at the same time charting a path forward for the courts.  There is now real opportunity to start a new narrative around judicial selection, one that rejects the stigma attached to public defenders and the mythical neutrality of prosecutors.

A few prior related posts from years past:

March 25, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Making (belated) case for a Prez to "choose nominees who will help dismantle mass incarceration"

James Forman has this notable new New York Times op-ed about Supreme Court nominations and the field of potential challengers to Prez Trump under the full headline "The Democratic Candidates Should Tell Us Now Who They’ll Put on the Supreme Court. And they should choose nominees who will help dismantle mass incarceration."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

In a country that locks up more of its citizens than any other, we should demand that candidates for president have a plan for how they will confront mass incarceration and repair the harms it has caused.  While most of the action in our criminal system takes place at the state and local level — almost 90 percent of prisoners are incarcerated in state, county, or local prisons or jails — the federal government still has an important role to play.

As Rachel Barkow, a law professor at N.Y.U., argues in her important new book, “Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration,” judicial appointments are one of the most powerful ways that a president can influence criminal justice policy. Federal judges make rules that govern nearly every aspect of our system, from police at the beginning of the criminal process to sentencing and prison at the end.

Over the past 50 years, those rules have facilitated mass incarceration.  Judges have held that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t prohibit police from racially profiling drivers during traffic stops, that the Sixth Amendment permits trials with underfunded defense lawyers who present little evidence or argument, and that the Eighth Amendment is no bar to outrageous sentences like life without parole for drug possession.

How did our legal landscape become this anti-defendant?  In part because so many federal judges are former prosecutors. Ms. Barkow reports that 43 percent of federal judges have been prosecutors, while 10 percent have been public defenders.

A judge’s career background doesn’t always predict her rulings — Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a former prosecutor, often stands up for the accused.  But she is the exception.  Federal judicial opinions typically read as if their authors have given little thought to how an excessively punitive criminal justice system can ruin lives, decimate families and lay waste to entire communities.

To upend this dynamic, Democratic presidential candidates must commit themselves to appointing federal judges who will work to challenge mass incarceration.  This will mean going beyond anything President Barack Obama attempted. When Mr. Obama wrote a 55-page law review article on what a president could do to push criminal justice reform, he made no mention of judicial appointments.  Worse, his appointments displayed almost the same pro-prosecution bias as his predecessors’: About 40 percent of his judicial nominees had worked as prosecutors, while some 15 percent had been public defenders.

Democratic candidates should promise to eliminate this bias by reshaping the federal bench so that it has as many former public defenders as it does former prosecutors.  The Supreme Court is a good place to start.  Remember when Donald Trump courted the conservative right by announcing the names of possible nominees several months before the 2016 election?  Any Democratic candidate who wants to win the votes of a Democratic electorate increasingly focused on criminal justice reform should make a similar announcement — and populate the list with lawyers who have seen the criminal system from the standpoint of the accused.

There is no shortage of quality names.  High on my list would be Bryan Stevenson, a career death penalty opponent, consummate Supreme Court litigator and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama.  Or Michelle Alexander, former law clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun, civil rights lawyer and author of the canonical “The New Jim Crow.” (Ms. Alexander is also an opinion columnist for The New York Times.)  Or Sherrilyn Ifill, a voting rights expert and head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the civil rights firm founded by Thurgood Marshall in 1940.

These aren’t the names that typically appear on Democratic short lists. They aren’t sitting judges, and unlike many who now serve on the federal bench, they’ve taken unpopular stands, sometimes at great risk.  As a result, my list might sound unconventional, even outlandish, to those accustomed to the traditional approach to judicial selection.  But it shouldn’t.  With impeccable credentials, unassailable legal acumen and a fierce determination to take down mass incarceration, these are the future nominees whose names should start rolling off the tongues of Democratic candidates who want to be taken seriously as criminal justice reformers.

I am very pleased to see this issue getting attention as the 2020 race starts to heat up. But, as long-time readers know, I think this issue should have been a focal point for reformers for more than a decade and should lead to distinctive analysis of the work of recent Presidents. I am pleased to see some very justified criticisms of Prez Obama on this front (though the failure to mention the Garland appointment blunder is telling), but how about also criticizing Hillary Clinton for not creating a nominee list to compete with the one put out by candidate Trump? How about noting, though this does not play to political bases, that Justice Neil Gorsuch had a smidgen of defense lawyering experience in law school and he has already show a willingness to vote for more defendants' rights than his conservative colleagues?

I could go on and on, but I mostly want to praise Prof Forman for elevating these issues, issues that I hope all the Prez candidates feel bound to engage.

March 11, 2019 in Campaign 2016 and sentencing issues, Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, March 08, 2019

Senator (and Prez candidate) Cory Booker introduces "Next Step Act of 2019" with wide array of sentencing and criminal justice reforms

As set forth in this press release, "U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) today introduced a sweeping criminal justice bill — the Next Step Act  — that would make serious and substantial reforms to sentencing guidelines, prison conditions, law enforcement training, and re-entry efforts."  Here is more about this new (lengthy) legislative proposal from the press release:

The Next Step Act is the most comprehensive criminal justice bill to be introduced in Congress in decades. "It's been 75 days since the First Step Act was signed into law, and already, it's changing lives," Booker said.  "But the First Step Act is just as its name suggests — it is one step on the long road toward fixing our broken criminal justice system. There's more that remains to be done so that our justice system truly embodies those words etched onto our nation's highest court â?“ 'equal justice under law.' That's exactly what the Next Step Act does. It builds off the gains of the First Step Act and pushes for bolder, more comprehensive reforms, like eliminating the sentencing disparities that still exist between crack and powder cocaine, assisting those coming out of prison with getting proper work authorization and ID documents, reducing the barriers formerly incarcerated individuals face when they try to find jobs, and ending the federal prohibition on marijuana."...

Specifically, the Next Step Act would:

  • Reduce harsh mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses: the 20-year mandatory minimum would be reduced to 10 years, the 10-year mandatory minimum would be reduced to 5 years, and the 5-year mandatory minimum would be reduced to 2 years.

  • Eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences (currently it is 18:1)

  • End the federal prohibition on marijuana, expunge records, and reinvest in the communities most harmed by the War on Drugs.

  • "Ban the Box" by prohibiting federal employers and contractors from asking a job applicant about their criminal history until the final stages of the interview process, so that formerly incarcerated individuals get a fairer, more objective shot at finding meaningful employment.

  • Removing barriers for people with criminal convictions to receiving an occupational license for jobs, such as hair dressers and taxi drivers.

  • Reinstate the right to vote in federal elections for formerly incarcerated individuals (blacks are more than four times as likely than whites to have their voting rights revoked because of a criminal conviction).

  • Create a federal pathway to sealing the records of nonviolent drug offenses for adults and automatically sealing (and in some cases expunging) juvenile records.

  • Ensure that anyone released from federal prison receives meaningful assistance in obtaining a photo-ID, birth certificate, social security card, or work authorization documents.

  • Improve the ability of those behind bars to stay in touch with loved ones, by banning the practice of charging exorbitant rates for phone calls (upwards of $400-$500 per month) and ensuring authorities take into consideration where someone's kids are located when placing them in a federal facility, a circumstance that acutely impacts women since there are far fewer women's prisons than men's prison.

  • Provide better training for law enforcement officers in implicit racial bias, de-escalation, and use-of-force.

  • Ban racial and religious profiling.

  • Improve the reporting of police use-of-force incidents (currently the Department of Justice is required to report use-of-force statistics to Congress, but states and local law enforcement agencies are not required to pass that information on to federal authorities, creating a significant gap in data that could be used to improve policies and training).

The Next Step Act is an effort to build upon the momentum of the First Step Act, which was signed into law late last year and which represents the biggest overhaul to the criminal justice system in a decade.  Booker was a key architect of the bill — he was instrumental in adding key sentencing provisions to the package after publicly opposing the House-passed version of the First Step Act first released in May 2018.  Booker also successfully fought to include provisions that effectively eliminated the solitary confinement of juveniles under federal supervision and banned the shackling of pregnant women.

The Next Step Act is based upon a number of individual bills Booker has authored, co-authored, or co-sponsored since arriving to the Senate in 2013, including the Marijuana Justice Act, the Fair Chance Act, the REDEEM Act, the Ending Racial Profiling Act, the Smarter Sentencing Act, the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, the Democracy Restoration Act, and the Police Reporting Information Data and Evidence Act.

I would be quite excited by a number of the substantive provisions in this bill if it had any chance of moving forward in any form.  But, for a host of political and practical reasons, this bill really serves more as Senator Booker's statement of aspirations rather than as a serious attempt to get something specific passed by Congress in the coming months.  Nevertheless, I am inclined to compliment the Senator for having so many big criminal justice reform aspirations, and the introduction of this bill will help ensure that Senator Booker keeps attention on criminal justice reform as he moves forward with his presidential campaign.

March 8, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, February 22, 2019

Brennan Center produces policy brief on "Ending Mass Incarceration: A Presidential Agenda"

2019_02_21_10AMJusticeAgendaforCandidates-1The Brennan Center for Justice yesterday released this notable new 16-page policy brief authored by Ames Grawert, Bryan Furst, and Cameron Kimble under the title "Ending Mass Incarceration: A Presidential Agenda."  Here is its introduction:

For many voters, the past two years have brought a new awareness of profound, continuing injustices in American society.  Among them is the civil rights crisis of mass incarceration.  Even with recent reforms, more than two million Americans remain behind the bars of jails or prisons.  Black men and women are imprisoned at roughly six times the rate of their white counterparts. The overuse of incarceration perpetuates economic and racial inequality, two issues at the top of the public concern.

Going into the 2020 election, contenders for the Democratic nomination — and the Republican incumbent — must have a plan to meet these challenges, or risk being out of step with the American people.

This report delineates how that can be done, outlining policies that would slash America’s incarceration rate, put people back to work, and reduce racial disparities in the process, while keeping the country safe.  These solutions can be a transformative piece of a presidential campaign and help define a new president’s legacy.

Some consensus for these changes already exists.  Late last year, Congress ended years of deadlock over federal sentencing reform by passing the FIRST STEP Act, which will reduce some of the most extreme and unjust sentences in the federal criminal code.  These changes will put families back together, make prison more humane, and help restore trust in law enforcement.

But the bill also raises the bar for any candidates seeking the Oval Office.  President Trump is already treating the act as a signature accomplishment, touting it among his top achievements in his State of the Union address.  Candidates who are serious about combating racial and economic injustice — and want voters to know it — will have to think bigger.

Rather than focusing on individual reforms, candidates for the presidency should commit to tackling some of the most pervasive and damaging parts of our criminal justice system, including overly punitive sentences, bail practices that favor the rich, and drug policies that unfairly target people of color.  These aren’t intractable problems, but they do call for sweeping changes, far more than what has been introduced to date. And enacting these in Washington can also spur more states to take action.

Incremental reforms will not make the history books.  The time for bold action is now, and this report outlines precisely the type of transformative solutions that candidates can champion to define their campaign or cement their legacy.

The report includes a number of large and small action items, all of which are interesting and important and all of which I hope get robustly discussed on the campaign trail.  The report has all prompted me to start a new blog category: "Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues."

February 22, 2019 in Campaign 2020 and sentencing issues, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)