Almost two dozen prominent Americans collaborated recently with essays suggesting solutions to the country’s problem of mass incarceration.
“We need to quit locking up all the people that we are mad at and lock up the people that truly deserve it,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee wrote, citing the state’s corrections director.
American Leaders Speak out on Criminal Justice has 22 contributors, including governors, U.S. senators, the CEO of the NAACP, U.S. and state attorneys general, a college professor, and a former president of the National Rifle Association.
The U.S. criminal justice system fails to provide sufficient law-and-order to communities; it creates laws driven by fear rather than facts and the system is fiscally irresponsible, according to Huckabee.
“The ultimate purpose of the system — beyond establishing guilt, assigning responsibility, delivering justice, and extending punishment — is to correct the behavior that led to the crime. Major first steps include treating drug addicts, eliminating waste, and addressing the character of our citizens and children,” Huckabee wrote.
Former President Bill Clinton cited research showing that criminal justice policies that focus on locking people up as a first choice increases the offenders’ tendency to commit future crimes. “…letting certain people out of jail, or never putting them there in the first place, may be the best thing we can do to make our country safer,” reads the introduction of the Brennan Center for Justice publication.
“Something is fundamentally wrong with a criminal justice system that imprisons millions of men, women, and even children for more crimes than any of us can imagine or count, subjects them to terrible conditions in overcrowded prisons that tend to harden them for far longer than necessary, and creates barriers that minimize their chances of succeeding once outside,” wrote David Keene, former NRA president.
Keene is also the former chairman of the American Conservative Union. He added, “…those arrested, convicted, and incarcerated should be treated humanely and prepared to return to communities as responsible and productive citizens.”
Keene called for six fundamental reforms in the U.S. criminal justice system:
Rebuild and strengthen the nation’s mental health-care system by ensuring the mentally ill are treated in hospitals or public treatment centers.
Reduce the number of criminal offenses.
Reduce the number of crimes punishable with prison.
Revise mandatory minimum and three strikes laws that keep people in prison far longer than necessary.
Reform how and when people on probation and parole get sent back to prison.
Reduce the stigma attached to those who have served their time.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas scrutinized the over-criminalization of certain acts, severe mandatory minimum sentences and how the purpose of jury trial is being weakened.
Cruz wrote that the plea-bargaining system gives prosecutors extraordinary power that allows them to be “the proverbial judge, jury and executioner in the mine-run of cases,” which is “nudging both judges and juries out of the truth-seeking process.”
“Although there is nothing wrong in principle with mandatory minimums, they must be carefully calibrated to ensure that no circumstances could justify a lesser sentence for the crime charged,” Cruz wrote. “The current draconian mandatory minimum sentences sometimes result in sentencing outcomes that neither fit the crime nor the perpetrator’s unique circumstances.”
“Instead of a one-size-fits-all justice system that responds to all crime as equal, we need a ‘Smart on Crime’ approach — one that applies innovative, data-driven methods to make our system more efficient and effective,” California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris wrote.
All information in this story is copyrighted 2015 by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. www.brennancenter.org.