Criminal Justice Reform

iStock_000056313646_XXXLargeOur criminal justice system is in need of wholesale reform. We are incarcerating way too many people, they are going to jail for the wrong reasons, they are staying there too long, the system is neither a good deterrent nor particularly rehabilitative, and it is discriminatory in its application. Here is what I propose as some key changes:

  1. REMOVE THE FINANCIAL INCENTIVE TO INCARCERATE MORE PEOPLE –Where it is possible to regain public control of prisons, such should be done immediately. Where, due to budgetary constraints, such is not possible, state prison contracts should be structured on a flat-rate basis, which creates profit by reduction of overhead associated with head count, rather than a per-capita basis, which creates profit by increased head count.
  1. DECRIMINALIZE MARIJUANA and STOP INCARCERATING PEOPLE FOR USE OF DRUGS – There is no legitimate reason to put people in jail for self-medication. It is an extremely expensive and inefficient way to deal with drug use. Moreover, it is not an effective deterrent nor does it address the underlying reasons why a person may choose to take drugs. The overwhelming data shows that drug addiction is a disease, and such is not best treated in prison. The money that is currently being spent incarcerating drug users would be much better used in drug treatment facilities and drug use prevention programs.
  • REMOVE MANDATORY MINIMUMS IN SENTENCING – These provisions have lead to perverse outcomes and the overcrowding of our prisons. They should be immediately stricken from criminal codes, particularly in the federal court system.
  1. ADDRESS INJUSTICES IN PROSECUTION, SENTENCING AND THE USE OF BAIL BONDS – There is overwhelming evidence that the criminal justice system is more harsh on minority offenders, males, the poor and those who do not speak English as a primary language. Conversely, it very forgiving and slow moving when the offender is a member of law enforcement.   I suggest the following:
  1. Create a database at DOJ that tracks the exercise of discretion by prosecutors and judges that can identify when a prosecutor or judge develops a pattern that negatively impacts members of a protected class. This will allow for the identification of persons with biases, training and intervention for said persons, and if necessary, removal.
  2. Create a mechanism for a person affected by an officer-involved shooting or other criminal allegation to petition a federal court for review when the investigation into the allegations has languished for more than six (6) months without either exoneration or charges. The federal court will have the ability to (1) determine that there is sufficient evidence to charge, (2) determine that there is sufficient evidence to exonerate, (3) order the production or gathering of additional evidence, or (4) appoint a new neutral investigator or prosecutor.
  3. Create a national standard for the setting of bail bonds and a mechanism to review such bonds to ensure that poor people do not spend more time in jail simply because they cannot afford to post bond.