Reduce the prison population, invest in rehabilitation, and end the failed war on drugs.
The United States has the highest incarceration and recidivism rates of industrialized countries, while our nation’s criminal justice system, in general, is too often inhumane, ineffective, and prohibitively expensive. With less than five percent of the world’s population, the United States locks up nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Our law enforcement priorities place too much emphasis on drug-related and petty, non-violent crimes, and not enough on the prosecution of corporate, white-collar, and environmental crime. The majority of prisoners are serving terms for non-violent, minor property and drug addiction crimes, or violations of their conditions of parole or probation, while the poor, the under-educated and various racial and ethnic minorities are over-represented in the prison population.
Alternatives to Incarceration
- Encourage and support positive approaches to punishment that build hope, responsibility and a sense of belonging. Prisons should be the sentence of last resort, reserved for violent criminals. Those convicted of non-violent offenses should be handled by alternative, community-based programs including halfway houses, work-furlough, community service, electronic monitoring, restitution, and rehabilitation programs.
- Treat substance abuse as a medical problem, not a criminal problem. Free all non-violent incarcerated prisoners of the drug war. Provide treatment to parolees and probationers who fail a drug test instead of re-incarceration.
- Release prisoners with diagnosed mental disorders to secure mental health treatment centers. Ensure psychological and medical care and rehabilitation services for mentally ill prisoners.
- Release prisoners who are too old and/or infirm to pose a threat to society to less expensive, community-based facilities.
- Make reduction of recidivism a primary goal of parole. Treat parole as a time of reintegration into the community, not as a continuation of sentence. Provide community reentry programs for inmates before their release. Provide access to education, addiction and psychological treatment, job training, work and housing upon their release. Provide counseling and other services to the members of a parolee’s family, to help them with the changes caused by the parolee’s return. Prevent unwarranted search without reasonable cause to parolees and their homes.
- Increase funding for rape and domestic violence prevention and education programs.
- Never house juvenile offenders with adults. House violent and non-violent juvenile offenders separately. Continue the education of juveniles while in custody. Substantially decrease the number of juvenile’s assigned to each judge and caseworker to oversee each juvenile’s placement and progress in the juvenile justice system.
Prison Conditions, Prisoner Treatment and Parolees
- Ban private prisons.
- Decriminalize poverty and homelessness. End criminalizing and incarcerating our unhoused brothers and sisters based on ‘Illegal Camping’.
- Implement a moratorium on prison construction. Redirect funds to alternatives to incarceration.
- Require that each state prison system install a rehabilitation administrator with equal authority as the highest authority.
- Ensure that all prisoners have the opportunity to obtain a General Education Diploma (i.e. high school equivalency diploma) and higher education. Education has proven to reduce recidivism by 10%.
- Restore the right to vote to all convicted felons after serving their time.
- Restore the right to hold public office to felons who have completed their prison sentence.
- Conduct racial and ethnic disparity impact studies for new and existing categories of offenses.
3. Criminal Justice Reform
- Abolish the death penalty.
- Repeal “three strikes” laws. Restore judicial discretion in sentencing. Abolish mandatory sentencing.
- Establish and fund programs to strengthen self-help and community action through neighborhood centers that provide legal aid, alternative dispute-resolution practices, mediated restitution, community team policing, and access to local crisis/assault care shelters.
- Establish elected or appointed independent civilian re-view boards with subpoena power to investigate complaints about prison guard and community police behavior. Sharply restrict police use of weapons and restraining techniques such as pepper spray, stun belts, tasers and choke holds.
- Prohibit property forfeiture and denial of due process for unconvicted suspects.
- End cash bail and replace with risk assessment tools that excludes race, religion and poverty as a risk factor.
- Increase compensation for jurors and provide childcare for those serving jury duty.
- Thoughtful, carefully considered gun control such as is contained in the Brady Bill (1993). Eliminate the gun show loophole that permits sale of weapons without background checks. Extend background checks to all private sales of firearms.
End the War on Drugs
- End the “war on drugs.” Redirect funds presently budgeted for the “war on drugs” toward expanded research, education, counseling and treatment.
- Amend the Controlled Substances Act to reflect that drug use in itself is not a crime, and that persons living in the United States arrested for using drugs should not be incarcerated.
- Legalize possession, sale, and cultivation of cannabis/marijuana.
- expunge from the record prior felony convictions for marijuana possession, sale, or cultivation.
- Grant amnesty and release from confinement without any further parole or probation, those who have been incarcerated for the use, sale, or cultivation of marijuana in federal and state prisons and in county/city jails, and who otherwise are without convictions for victim oriented crimes, or who do not require treatment for abuse of hard drugs. Provide the option for drug treatment to those leaving confinement.
- Implement a step-by-step program to decriminalize only the ‘use’ of all drugs in the United States. Continue prohibition for the sale and manufacturing of harmful substances.