America's criminal justice system creates just results for some people, but it is terribly unjust for far too many others. Our history of “tough on crime” laws have been attributed to America becoming the most incarcerated nation in the industrialized world. These laws disproportionately affect minorities and low-income communities. And because we do so little to rehabilitate those who are incarcerated, we have created a revolving door at our prisons. Within five years of their release, three-quarters of prisoners are arrested once again.
Pew Research Center has statistically proven that there is a tipping point: as soon as more than 500 people per 100,000 people are imprisoned, it actually creates more crime, because the incarceration disrupts and destabilizes so many families and communities. Shockingly the national average in many parts of the US is over 700 prisoners per 100,000 people. And many communities around the country have 2,000 or even 4,000 prisoners per 100,000 people. This is disgraceful and unsustainable.
Criminal justice has become both a political and moral disaster.
According to the Bureau of Justice, incarceration in the U.S. grew from 300,000 people in 1980 to more than 2 million in 2013. This statistic is startling given that data from both the FBI and the Bureau of Justice shows that violent crime in America has fallen sharply over the last quarter of a century.
Our criminal system has disproportionately targeted African Americans and Latinos, who have the highest likelihood of facing the most strict prison sentences than their white counterparts. According to a U.S. Sentencing Commission report, the prison sentences of black men are 20 percent longer than white men for similar crimes. America today is incarcerating a higher proportion of African Americans than South Africa did at the height of apartheid and there are more imprisoned black men behind bars than there were enslaved in 1850.
For many people of color in this country, the governmental response to crime has been part of a greater continuity of circumstances that began in the 1600s which still plagues us today. Mothers and fathers all over America each day are teaching their children — particularly their sons — how to avoid the unequal application of criminal justice in the United States. The message communicated from our governmental action has largely been a response of suppression rather than addressing the systemic problems that plague communities and families in this country head-on.
“People of color make up more than 60 percent of the people behind bars. Though only 13 percent of the U.S. population is black, they make up 40 percent of the incarcerated population. Latinos account for 16 percent of the overall population but make up 19 percent of incarcerated people.” [[Center for American Progress]]
“Despite using and selling drugs at similar rates as whites, African Americans and Latinos make up 62 percent of state prisoners for drug-related offenses and 72 percent for federal drug trafficking offenses.” [[Center for American Progress]]
“People of color are more likely to be searched than their white counterparts during traffic stops. National survey data also shows that blacks and Latinos are three times more likely to be searched than whites.” [[Center for American Progress]]
"Drug arrests account for a quarter of incarcerated people in America, but overall drug use has remained steady. America has spent trillions of dollars on the ineffective "War on Drugs" over the last 40 years but the proportion of drug use has not declined. Disproportionately, it's been poor people and people of color that have been locked up. People with criminal arrest records are routinely burdened with impediments to employment, education support, housing, and stability." [[ACLU]]
"Formerly incarcerated people are routinely blocked from getting jobs, housing, and educational opportunities after their release through federal, state, and local legal restrictions because of these records. There are nearly 50,000 such legal restrictions throughout the United States. This perpetuates re-arrest rates and significantly contributes to high rates recidivism of people who have been once released from prison." [[ACLU]]
We need to engage at-risk youth, and offer them the kind of resources, education, and counseling that will help them succeed in life, rather than fall into cycles of violence and imprisonment.
This includes addressing Poverty head on. Hunger is a root cause of violence, and a country with the kind of means of the United States must do more to prevent poverty - certainly, among children. In my economic and education sections, I explain what I am proposing to be done to help alleviate poverty in America.
Restorative Justice is a reconciliation-focused justice process that can bring healing to victims and communities, much more so than solely punitive-minded criminal justice approaches. Restorative justice is guided by victims’ needs, and allows the possibility for offenders to directly confront the human costs of their actions and make some form of amends. Ultimately, this approach to criminal reform helps everyone move forward - victims, assailants, and communities themselves. By laying the foundations for empathy, restorative justice prevents repeat offenses, and rebuilds frayed bonds, helping restore communities.
A Marianne Williamson Administration will focus on studying and promoting restorative justice programs and approaches for criminal justice reform throughout this country.
Evidence informs us that the majority of people in jails and prisons have survived rape, assault, or childhood sexual abuse — or at the very least, have witnessed violence to people close to them.
Trauma sends people into the criminal justice system, and then the criminal justice system too often heaps more trauma on those incarcerated or facing incarceration. If we are serious about breaking the cycle of violence, we need to be sensitive to these traumatic experiences that lead to violence, and by doing so, we have a chance of addressing both.
In particular, we need to create a trauma-informed environment inside the juvenile justice system. Too many of our youths have been mistreated, and when they act out they are often treated poorly, again. This is not a tenable situation. If we can instead treat people with respect and provide them with psychological support, then we can help save their lives, and the lives of those they might otherwise injure.
Incarceration is often necessary. But that does not mean we need to lose our humanity as a culture, nor do we need to ignore the humanity of incarcerated people. If we treat offenders with respect to their essential human dignity, we create a greater chance that they will return to their communities as productive members of society and not revert to criminal behavior. We need to give past offenders, once they have paid their debt to society, support in transitioning back to society. That serves not only them but us.
A Williamson presidency will support increasing the number of programs in prisons that provide life-skills for those who are incarcerated. I am a strong advocate for teaching inmates emotional literacy, communications skills, conflict resolution skills, and job training.
There are reforms we can make at the federal level for federal crimes. For the things that are under state and local control, I will use the bully pulpit and every other means necessary to raise the consciousness of these issues. Through the Department of Justice and other relevant federal agencies, we will better coordinate and disseminate proper norms, provide grants and funding and in numerous other ways make positive shifts in our criminal justice systems.