We must stop allowing our children to be sent to adult prisons. Additionally, we must put an end to the capitalization of mass incarceration. It starts with a close look at the level of offenses and sentences. The entire cash bail system needs overhauling. Our present offenders need more rehabilitation and protection from cruel and unusual punishment. Ex-offenders must be protected from offender discrimination and voting rights must be considered.
4,500...that’s the number of children housed in adult jails on any given day in America (Equal Justice Initiative, 2017). In my early 20’s I was fortunate to be a youth minister and with my church group I often visited juvenile detention centers and provided bible study and encouragement to several talented young people. My hope was that eventually they would mature and some day contribute back to society. Unfortunately, although all states have the ability to house children in juvenile detention centers, many of them choose not to. One of the things I promise to do as a senator is get to the bottom of this by creating and supporting legislation that keeps children separate from adults. It is a proven fact that the ability to make good choices lies in the frontal lobe of the brain which has not been given a chance to develop in our children. They must be given a second chance at life and the opportunity to expunge their records and succeed. As a law student, I got a chance to build a city-wide teen court from scratch that helped prevent recidivism in our teens. I’m here to tell you they have the ability to grow and be better. They are counting on us (as adults) to put them on the right track.
The second thing we need to address is 18 U.S.C. 924 (c) which makes it possible for prosecutors to give the harshest sentences for the lowest offenses. This law allows federal prosecutors to massively increase sentencing for a crime of violence or for drugs. The Eighth Amendment protects us against cruel and unusual punishment. It’s time for legislators to get serious about reforming mandatory minimum sentences and how they needlessly lock people up for decades and decades. My plan is to meet with experts in the field and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) to see what type of legislation can be introduced to attack this problem.
The third thing we must address is the cash bail system. The cash bail system criminalizes poverty and disproportionately impacts communities of color. Three out of 5 people in U.S. jails have not been convicted of any crime but are kept in pre-trial detention because they can’t afford to get out. Spending even a few days in jail can result in people losing their houses, their jobs, and even custody of their children. Additionally, persons needing bail are already being treated as prisoners as they have most likely been deprived of their personal property (due process issue). I promise to support and create legislation where prosecutors must prove the need for continued detention (presumption of release) and limits qualifying offenses for detention to only the most serious ones.
The fourth thing we must address is the status of private prisons in this country. While I am not inclined to support private prisons I do understand the need to house dangerous lawbreakers. However, I am against cutting costs at the expense of treating prisoners inhumanely. Additionally, I am opposed to tactics used secretly by private prisons to increase their prison population, such as lobbying congressmen and women to vote for harsher laws and penalties along with longer prison sentences. As a senator, I promise to support picks for the Office of the Inspector General who are neutral and remain independent; ones who can be good overseers of prisons.
Upon my election to the senate, I also intend to work on the following items:
Less Jails, More Treatment Facilities. People need compassion more than capital punishment and death sentences. As a future senator, I will work with my colleagues every day to create, support and reward prison systems who convert various aspects of their facilities to treatment and rehabilitation for the prevention of recidivism. Until the mid 1970s, rehabilitation was a key part of U.S. prison policy. Since then, rehabilitation has taken a back seat to a “get tough on crime” approach. We need to return to our roots and provide prisoners with the tools they need to be eventual contributors to society.
Protect Ex-Offenders from Discrimination & Support Re-entry Programs. There is life after prison and sadly for many, the road is bleak. They are often excommunicated from the voting process, discriminated against in housing, and discouraged from working. They must be given an opportunity to be better if they are to truly reintegrate. If this is to happen they should be provided with skills to acquire jobs, housing, and voting rights should be restored to them. I don’t know whose idea it was to take voting rights away from them in the first place. Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution provides that Congress may at any time by law make or alter regulations governing elections. Prisoners must have the right to vote restored to them. I got a chance to work closely with ex-offenders in the City of Gary and provide them with professional skills for years. I can tell you they want to work and want to fully re-enter and reintegrate back into society. As a future U.S. senator I intend to work on these things and advocate on their behalf.