I have to say that I am very encouraged to see that Hillary Clinton’s first major policy speech of the 2016 campaign was on the need for criminal justice reform. I know there are those who will brush it off as opportunistic – coming on the heels of the unrest in Baltimore. But apparently it was scheduled two years ago. Something this major doesn’t just pop up over night.
We’ll get to her specifics on policy shortly. But she started off by putting the issue of criminal justice reform within a context that should remind any listener of what our current President has been saying since he came on the scene back in 2004.
But more broadly, let’s remember that everyone in every community benefits when there is respect for the law and when everyone in every community is respected by the law. That is what we have to work towards in Baltimore and across our country.
We must urgently begin to rebuild the bonds of trust and respect among Americans. Between police and citizens, yes, but also across society. Restoring trust in our politics, our press, our markets. Between and among neighbors and even people with whom we disagree politically.
This is so fundamental to who we are as a nation and everything we want to achieve together. It truly is about how we treat each other and what we value. Making it possible for every American to reach his or her God-given potential—regardless of who you are, where you were born, or who you love.
The inequities that persist in our justice system undermine this shared vision of what America can be and should be.
Clinton also took a moment to recognize the bipartisan efforts on reform that are currently underway in Congress.
Today there seems to be a growing bipartisan movement for commonsense reforms in our criminal justice systems. Senators as disparate on the political spectrum as Cory Booker and Rand Paul and Dick Durbin and Mike Lee are reaching across the aisle to find ways to work together. It is rare to see Democrats and Republicans agree on anything today. But we’re beginning to agree on this: We need to restore balance to our criminal justice system.
In terms of specifics, here are the things she mentioned:
1. Ensure that “federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets”
2. Ensure that every police department has body cameras
3. Renew an emphasis on community policing
4. Promote prevention: “you cannot talk about smart policing and reforming the criminal justice system if you also don’t talk about what’s needed to provide economic opportunity, better educational chances for young people, more support to families so they can do the best jobs they are capable of doing to help support their own children”
5. Provide alternative punishments for low-level offenders
6. Reform arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences
7. Provide probation and drug diversion programs
8. Improve mental health services
One distinction that Clinton made is important. She noted that the first 3 are about reforms to law enforcement, while the last 4 have to do with prison/sentencing reform. While she didn’t point this out, the reason that is important is because conservatives have engaged on the latter, but they have been silent about the need for the former (not to mention that when it comes to #4, they typically blame the victims).
Overall, in terms of both content and style, I’d say: so far…so good for Hillary ’16.