On April 29th, presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, called for the end of “mass incarceration.”Hillary Clinton with other presidential candidates have recognized that our judicial system and prison policies are broken. The United States has twenty five percent of the world’s inmates despite having only five percent of the world’s population. Currently, we have about 2,3 million inmates in our prisons and jails.
The Sentencing Project reported in 2003, more than half (55%) of federal prisoners were serving time for a drug offense, and only 13% for a violent offense. Nearly three-fourths (72.1%) of the population were non-violent offenders with no history of violence. One-third (34.4%) were first-time, non-violent offenders. In 2014, Human Rights Watch, reported that “tough on crime” laws enacted since the 1980’s have filled U.S. prisons with mostly inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes.
Candidate Clinton called for more programs instead of prison sentences to treat Americans with mental illness issues and drug addictions. She noted that “our prisons and our jails are now our mental health institutions.”
Hillary Clinton discussed that our judicial system and law enforcement have to recognize and change their treatment of minorities. She named the Black Americans including Freddy Gray of Baltimore who were killed by police during the past 12 months. The majority of inmates in the United States are men and women of color.
Ironically, the policies of President Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan helped create today’s era of mass incarceration. President Clinton has recognized that the United States cannot remain the country with the most inmates and prisons. In a new foreword on a book about criminal justice reform, he wrote “By 1994, violent crime had tripled in 30 years,”… “Our communities were under assault. We acted to address a genuine national crisis. But much has changed since then. It’s time to take a clear-eyed look at what worked, what didn’t, and what produced unintended, long-lasting consequences.”
Republican candidates, like Rand Paul, have also criticized our mass incarceration policies. At the Iowa State Republican Party Convention, he condemned racist drug policies in the United States and called for the restoration of voting rights for ex-convicts.
The presidential candidates including Hillary Clinton have not described in detail their plans for incarceration reform. The cure to mass incarceration is not rocket science. Judges should have discretion regarding sentencing. It is time to end the “Three Strike Laws” and mandatory sentencing. Prison and jail should not be the first option for nonviolent defendants with mental illnesses or drug addictions. Jobs and safe housing should be provided to released inmates in order to end our high rate of recidivism.
One last point, if the presidential candidates really want to end this national crisis and need help in doing so, they should talk to the real experts—- inmates in prison and former inmates.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com