Since the launching of her presidential campaign earlier in April, Hillary Clinton addressed one of the most poignant issues facing the United States of America, namely criminal justice reform.
Mrs. Clinton’s statements came shortly after the waves of violence and protests in Baltimore kept the headlines and the attention of the nation. The former First Lady and U.S. senator declared that the nation’s justice system is off balance and that the era of mass incarceration should soon come to an end.
Addressing the issue of police violence and the use of extreme force she noted that one solution could be police officers wearing cameras, thus documenting their every move. Although a controversial suggestion as it raises concerns over the right to privacy of both the professional category under discussion and other citizens, it could be one step forward to further transparent police actions.
While the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody sparked the mass protests in Baltimore, Mrs. Clinton underlined that further violence is not only disrespectful towards the young man’s family, but a counterproductive action for the entire nation. She made reference not only to the events in Baltimore but also to those in Charleston, South Carolina or Ferguson, Missouri, as well to those in New York when repudiating former President Bill Clinton’s criminal justice policies.
Hillary Clinton dismissed the current approach to criminal justice that materializes in lengthy prison terms and increased number of police officers on the street. During the Clinton administration all these were made possible by the legacy of spiking criminality rates during the 70’s and the 80’s.
However, Mrs. Clinton wishes to renounce the past, calling for the understanding of contemporary society and the effects of aging criminal justice policies.
„What is needed”, she said, „is a true national debate about how to reduce our prison population. We don’t want to create another incarceration generation.”
In this respect she uttered support for alternative punishments for those who are found to be low-level offenders and the easing of sentencing rules. She also reiterated the need to address substance abuse and mental illness. Mrs. Clinton also drew attention to the predominance of violence towards African American men around the US. It is not fair for black men to be more predominantly stopped and searched by police officers or charged with crimes and serve longer prison terms.
Against this background, Mrs. Clinton stated that the black men represent six percent of the nation’s population, but 37 percent of the imprisoned population. And to this extent one must think about the impact it has on communities at large, where economic or educational opportunities are scarcer. Unless charged with severe crimes, Mrs. Clinton showed her support for alternative punishments only to the end of not tearing families and communities even further apart.
The idea of criminal justice reform is not new as current President Barack Obama had already asked for police body cameras and additional law enforcement training, following the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson. The request of the president who envisioned a budget of 75 million dollars over three years for 50,000 devices never passed Congress.
And although it is only recently the both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have found consensus in Congress over the need of criminal justice reform, it is still unclear whether Mrs. Hillary Clinton will be able to face the difficulties of passing and implementing it.
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