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Restorative Justice

As a nation we must come to a unified understanding that many of our institutions are not designed to treat all Americans equally. This is especially true in our criminal justice system. The Black Lives Matter movement has brought this injustice back into the national conversation and forced all of us to have difficult discussions about police relations, the effect of the criminal justice system on communities of color, and of other inequitable institutions. We must recognize there are vast racial disparities of how individuals are processed in the justice system. Black Americans are arrested at a rate of 3 times that of their white neighbors, their communities are over-policed which result in excessive enforcement of minor infractions, and they are more likely to receive harsher prison sentences compared to their white neighbors who have committed a similar offense.

Despite the previous administration’s disgraceful response to the Black Lives Matter movement, we did achieve two victories in the renewal of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act and the First Step Act. However, we must continue to challenge our Justice system and push for further reform to achieve true and lasting change. I believe this comes in many forms, including but not limited to, the following:

Reform federal drug laws.

Addiction should not be a criminal offence. This includes the legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use, decriminalization of recreational drug use, implementation of more drug rehabilitation services, and repealing minimum sentencing guidelines and three strike laws. We should also actively review all cases of drug related incarceration and release and expunge the records of those who would not be subject to criminal penalty under these revised laws. This would grant millions of Americans access to economic and housing opportunities that have otherwise been restricted due to their conviction history.

Strengthen policing standards and guidelines.

We must continue to evaluate our police practices including use-of-force policies. The federal government must incentivize local governments and police departments to adopt strict police conduct standards and promote community outreach programs. We must also end qualified immunity which will increase police department and officer accountability to the community.

Protect local governments and budget reallocations.

We overburden our police officers by expecting them to not only deter crime and respond to emergencies but to also serve as mental health and social service professionals. Many local governments have tried to address this excess responsibility that we have placed with our police and allocate funding to social services, only to have these actions reversed by their state legislature. We must protect these communities by passing legislation that restricts or disincentivizes states from enacting preemption laws on public safety funding.

Reform labor and wage practices in prisons.

We should lessen the burden incarceration has on families. This begins with paying incarcerated individuals fair market wages for labor which will allow individuals to continue financial support for their families, assist with payment of legal fees, and provide financial support for reintroduction once an individual’s sentence has been fulfilled. Millions of families, especially those with children, could achieve financial stability with these earned wages.

Abolish private prisons.

Through reforms in federal drug laws I believe we can greatly reduce the federal prison population and begin closing privatized prisons. Most of the incarcerated population is housed in state prisons, as such, we should continue to pressure states to adopt reformed drug law standard to create the same effect in reducing prison populations and the termination of private prison contracts. The private sector should not profit from the incarceration of our citizens.

Restore Access to Voting.

Criminal justice is built on the idea that individuals who commit a crime will receive a penalty and be rehabilitated. As such, once that penalty has been paid, we should restore an individual’s right to fully participate in society, including the right to vote. Failing to do so disenfranchises millions of reformed Americans from participating in our democracy and disproportionally restricts the rights of people of color. We must restore the right to vote for felons who have completed their sentencing.

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