Tag Archives: criminal justice

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Senator Warren Details Plan to Restore Trust in the Federal Judiciary

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC.
Warren’s proposals to restore trust in the federal judiciary are particularly noteworthy in light of widespread concern that the judiciary has been politicized © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

With Attorney General William Barr facing criticism for his direct involvement in extorting Ukraine to engage in a bogus investigation intended to harm Democratic candidate for 2020 Vice President Joe Biden and opening a criminal investigation into the intelligence officers in the CIA and FBI who initially investigated and exposed Russian meddling in the 2016 Election and contacts with the Trump campaign, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposals unveiled earlier this month to restore trust in the federal judiciary are particularly noteworthy in light of widespread concern that the judiciary has been politicized. This is from the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Senator Elizabeth Warren detailed how she will strengthen the ethical integrity and impartiality of the federal judiciary. Her plan will ensure that judges do not hear cases where they have conflicts of interests, strengthen our nation’s ethics rules for judges, and ensure accountability for judges who violate these rules.

Under her plan, investigations into judicial misconduct could continue even when a judge resigns from office or is elevated to the Supreme Court. This provision would allow the judiciary to reopen the investigations into Alex Kozinski, Maryanne Trump Barry, Brett Kavanaugh, and any other judge who benefited from this loophole.

In December 2017, more than 15 female law clerks alleged that Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski committed sexual misconduct and created a “hostile, demeaning and persistently sexualized environment” for employees. According to their accounts, Kozinski inappropriately touched female clerks and showed them pornography in his chambers. 

It wasn’t the first time he was accused of misconduct. But what did Judge Kozinski do when the judiciary started to investigate? He retired.

And because of inadequate ethics laws, the investigation ended immediately. Meanwhile, Kozinski continues to collect his taxpayer-funded pension for life.

The Kozinski case is just one example of the broader problem of accountability in the federal judiciary.

Donald Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry ended an investigation into the Trump family’s potential tax fraud and other tax schemes by resigning from the bench.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia did not recuse themselves from Citizens United v. FEC, the case that opened an avalanche of money in politics to the benefit of people like the Koch brothers, who invited the pair to multiple all-expenses paid retreats.

And several judges have ruled on cases while owning stock in a company that was a party to the case, violating existing conflicts-of-interest rules that expressly prohibit this practice.

The basic premise of our legal system is that every person is treated equally in the eyes of the law – including judges. Our judiciary only functions properly when it lives up to this promise, and it risks eroding its legitimacy when the American people lose faith that judges are ethical and fair-minded.

That’s why today I’m announcing my plan to strengthen the ethical integrity and impartiality of the federal judiciary. It’s time to ensure that judges do not hear cases where they have conflicts of interests, strengthen our nation’s ethics rules for judges, and ensure accountability for judges who violate these rules.

Recusing Judges and Supreme Court Justices with Conflicts of Interest.

In 2011, Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Hill ruled in favor of Johnson & Johnson in a case brought by a woman who suffered from a malfunctioning medical implant. He did so while owning as much as $100,000 in the company’s stock. The same judge ruled on three other cases involving companies in which he owned stock – and ruled in favor of the company each time. Judge Hill, unfortunately, is not alone: one study identified 24 cases in which judges owned stock in a company that appeared before them in court.

A basic principle of our federal judicial system is that judges make decisions as disinterested, impartial observers – stepping aside when they may not be able to decide cases objectively. This principle should also bar judges from being the final arbiter of whether they can be objective in the first place. 

It’s time for fundamental reform:

Prohibit judges from deciding for themselves whether they should recuse from a case due to a conflict. When a litigant believes that a judge cannot consider a case in an unbiased manner, the litigant may file a recusal motion asking for another judge to decide the case instead. But our current system gives judges enormous discretion to decide for themselves whether to grant recusal motions where their objectivity is challenged. My plan will instead empower the Chief Judges within regional circuits to establish a binding recusal process. It will also require courts to publish its reasons any time judges are disqualified from a case without a recusal motion, including when judges voluntarily recuse or when an automated conflict-checking software disqualifies them. 

Ban judges from owning or trading individual stocks. It’s not enough for judges like James Hill to recuse in cases with conflicts of interest – my plan would eliminate the appearance of impropriety by banning federal judges from owning or trading individual stocks, while allowing them to instead invest in conflict-free mutual funds or open new investment accounts managed by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. Law firms follow rules like these to avoid the appearance of financial conflicts with the interests of their clients. Judges should certainly be held to the same standard.

Require Supreme Court Justices to provide written explanations of recusal decisions when a litigant challenges for recusal. If a Supreme Court Justice has a conflict of interest, they are ethically obligated to recuse themselves from considering a case, but the law allows them to deny recusal motions without even providing an explanation. Under my plan, when a party asks for a Justice to recuse, the Judicial Conference will issue a non-binding, public advisory opinion with its recommendation – and the challenged Justice will publicly explain their final recusal decision in writing. Because all recusal decisions will be a matter of public record, future litigants will understand these conflicts and know when to bring recusal decisions of their own.

Strengthening Ethics Rules for All Judges.

Every lawyer in America is subject to ethics rules. Federal judges are generally subject to a Code of Conduct that applies the most basic of these principles to members of the judiciary.

But there is no Code of Conduct for Supreme Court Justices.

That means that Supreme Court Justices can go on trips with litigants, like Justice Scalia did when he heard a case involving Vice President Cheney after going hunting with him – without an independent ruling on whether it was proper to do so. It means Justices can receive large speaking fees and all-expenses paid trips to fancy conferences, like Justice Thomas did when the Federalist Society, an extremist right-wing legal group, flew him to Palm Springs and paid for meals and transportation for four days. And it means that someone like Brett Kavanaugh can face accusations of lying to Congress – without a full and fair investigation by the judiciary. These actions could violate the Judicial Code of Conduct, but because unlike all other federal judges these Justices are not bound by a code of ethics, they are immune from any judicial investigations into misconduct. 

We must act now to fix this – and that means strengthening the Code of Conduct for all judges.

Here’s where I would start:

Extend the Code of Conduct to Supreme Court Justices. When Judge Kavanaugh was elevated to the Supreme Court, 83 ethics complaints that had been lodged against him were dismissed – and because the Supreme Court is not covered by a Code of Conduct, no procedure exists to file new complaints. Questions are often raised about the behavior of Supreme Court Justices, such as Justice Thomas’s 13 years of financial disclosures that failed to list $690,000 in payments to his wife from the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing judicial activist group – but these actions are beyond the scope of current rules. Enough. My plan applies the Code of Conduct for United States Judges to Supreme Court Justices – and places the Judicial Conference in charge of violations. My plan also allows individuals to file complaints against Supreme Court Justices, just like they can against all other federal judges.  

Strengthen the Code of Conduct to ensure a fair and impartial judiciary. When judges accept gifts or financial contributions from interested parties, public trust in a fair-minded judiciary erodes. My plan strengthens the Code of Conduct so that judges generally cannot receive paid speaking fees or all-expenses-paid trips from outside organizations. To ensure that judges continue to interact with the public without the appearance of impropriety, my plan also establishes a modest fund to help cover reasonable expenses.

Real Enforcement for Judicial Misconduct.

When a lawyer violates the ethics rules, their state’s judiciary can investigate their behavior and impose disciplinary punishment, including stripping their licence to practice law.

But the panels of judges that investigate judicial conduct complaints have limited disciplinary power beyond asking the judge to voluntarily resign or asking the House of Representatives to consider impeachment proceedings – a request the House is free to ignore. 

It’s time for real accountability for judges. Here’s how we’ll start:

Continue investigations into judicial misconduct even when a judge resigns from office or is elevated to the Supreme Court.

In 2016, Federal District Court Judge Walter Smith faced a judicial investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of court employees and drinking on the bench while presiding over cases. Judge Smith resigned, and the complaints filed against him were dismissed. 

My plan extends the authority of the Judicial Conference to former judges so that individuals under investigation cannot simply resign from the bench to avoid accountability. This provision would allow the judiciary to reopen the investigations into Alex KozinskiMaryanne Trump-BarryBrett Kavanaugh, and any other judge who benefited from this loophole.

Provide strong disciplinary authority to judicial ethics watchdogs, including the ability to strip non-vested taxpayer-funded pensions from judges.

Under today’s rules, even if retired judges could be investigated, the Judicial Conference has no meaningful tools to discipline them. American taxpayers are paying for the more than $180,000-per-year retirement pay of Judge Smith, Judge Kozinski, Judge Trump-Barry, and several other judges who left office during investigations into their behavior. We need to restore real accountability within our judiciary. 

That’s why my plan provides disciplinary tools to the Judicial Councils and their parent organization, the Judicial Conference, including the ability to strip sitting or retired judges of their non-vested pension benefits by making retirement pay for new judges explicitly contingent on the absence of serious misconduct. In addition to strengthening these disciplinary tools, my administration will also work to prevent judicial misconduct against employees and law clerks by supporting strong climate surveys, questionnaires to court employees about the work environment in our federal courts, to help the judiciary understand how to improve the culture within our courts.

Create a new, fast-track impeachment process for federal judges who commit impeachable offenses. 

The Constitution reserves the impeachment of judges for only the most egregious offenses. But when a judge commits a serious offense or ethical violation, we need to make sure that there is a prompt investigation – and that Congress takes action.

It’s time to fast-track the process for judges who commit impeachable offenses. My plan would strengthen the process to certify that a judge may have committed an impeachable offense, and would ensure that any impeachment referrals will trigger a series of automatic rules under which the House Judiciary Committee will conduct a thorough investigation and vote without unnecessary delay. These reforms will ensure that judges who commit serious, impeachable offenses will more likely be promptly removed from office.

These changes will not only allow us to ensure accountability for bad actors, including reopening inquiries into the conduct of offenders like Brett Kavanaugh. They will also hold the vast majority of judges who act in good faith to the highest ethical standards, and in the process, begin to restore accountability and trust in a fair and impartial federal judiciary.

Read more about her plan here:  

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Warren Plan to Reduce Mass Incarceration, Reform Criminal Justice System

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 2020 Democratic candidate for president, proposes a plan to reduce mass incarceration and reform the criminal justice system without infringing on public safety (c) Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Elizabeth Warren released her plan to reduce mass incarceration and reform the criminal justice system without infringing on public safety. This is from the Warren2020 campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Today, Elizabeth Warren released her plan to reduce mass incarceration and reform our criminal justice system. Elizabeth believes we need to reimagine how we talk and think about public safety, spending our budgets not on putting people in prison but on community services that lift people up. It is a false choice to suggest a trade off between safety and mass incarceration – we can decarcerate and make our communities safer. 

Her plan details how she will reform all aspects of our system: what we choose to criminalize, how law enforcement and prosecutors engage with communities and the accused, how long we keep people behind bars and how we treat them when they’re there, and how we reintegrate them when they return.

“We will reduce incarceration and improve justice in our country by changing what we choose to criminalize, reforming police behavior and improving police-community relations, and reining in a system that preferences prosecution over justice. When people are incarcerated, we will provide opportunities for treatment, education and rehabilitation, and we’ll continue those supports for returning citizens as they reenter our communities. Most importantly, we’ll rethink the way we approach public safety — emphasizing preventative approaches over law enforcement and incarceration. That’s the way we’ll create real law and order and real justice in our country.”

Read more about Warren’s plan here: 

The United States makes up 5% of the world’s population, but nearly 20% of the world’s prison population. We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with over 2 million people in prison and jail.

Our system is the result of the dozens of choices we’ve made — choices that together stack the deck against the poor and the disadvantaged. Simply put, we have criminalized too many things. We send too many people to jail. We keep them there for too long. We do little to rehabilitate them. We spend billions, propping up an entire industry that profits from mass incarceration. And we do all of this despite little evidence that our harshly punitive system makes our communities safer — and knowing that a majority of people currently in prison will eventually return to our communities and our neighborhoods.

To make matters worse, the evidence is clear that there are structural race problems in this system. Latinx adults are three times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. For the exact same crimes, Black Americans are more likely than whites to be arrested, charged, wrongfully convicted, and given harsher sentences. One in ten Black children has an incarcerated parent.

Four words are etched above the Supreme Court: Equal Justice Under Law. That’s supposed to be the promise of our justice system. But today in America, there’s one system for the rich and powerful, and another one for everybody else. It’s not equal justice when a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system.

Real reform requires examining every step of this system: From what we choose to criminalize, to how law enforcement and prosecutors engage with communities and the accused, to how long we keep people behind bars, how we treat them when they’re there, and how we reintegrate them when they return.

We cannot achieve this by nibbling around the edges — we need to tackle the problem at its roots. That means implementing a set of bold, structural changes at all levels of government.

And it starts by reimagining how we talk and think about public safety. For example:

Public safety should mean providing every opportunity for all our kids to get a good education and stay in school.

It should mean safe, affordable housing that keeps families together and off the streets.

It should mean violence intervention programs that divert young people from criminal activity, before the police become involved.

It should mean policies that recognize the humanity of trans people and other LGBTQ+ Americans and keep them safe from violence.

It should mean accessible mental health services and treatment for addiction.

It is a false choice to suggest a tradeoff between safety and mass incarceration. By spending our budgets not on imprisonment but on community services that lift people up, we’ll decarcerate and make our communities safer. Here’s my plan.

Rethink Our Approach to Public Safety

It’s not enough merely to reform our sentencing guidelines or improve police-community relations. We need to rethink our approach to public safety, transitioning away from a punitive system and investing in evidence-based approaches that address the underlying drivers of violence and crime — tackling it at its roots, before it ever has a chance to grow.

Break the school-to-prison pipelineSchools increasingly rely on police officers to carry out discipline while neglecting services that are critical to the well being of students. At least fourteen million students attend schools with a police officer but without a single counselor, social worker, psychologist, or nurse. It’s no surprise that tens of thousands of students are arrested annually, many for minor infractions. Zero tolerance policies start early — on average 250 preschoolers are suspended or expelled every day — and, even in the youngest years, students of color bear the brunt. In later grades, Black and Brown students are disproportionately arrested in schools, while students with disabilities face an increased risk of disciplinary action.

Every child should have the opportunity to receive the support they need to thrive inside and outside of the classroom. Adverse childhood experiences such as poverty, violence at home, homelessness, family separation, or an incarcerated caretaker are proven to negatively impact child development. I will equip schools with resources to meet their students’ needs by providing access to health care to support the physical, mental, and social development of children, improve their overall school readiness and providing early intervention services. We should decriminalize truancy and instead increase the number of school mental health personnel and provide schools with resources to train teachers and administrators in positive behavioral interventions, trauma-informed alternative discipline practices, and implicit bias to limit suspensions, expulsions, and minor-infraction arrests. We should require that any police department receiving federal funds provide mandatory training in the scientific and psychological roots of discrimination, youth development, and de-escalation tactics to officers assigned to school campuses. I’ll rescind Trump’s executive order that allows school districts to participate in the 1033 program, giving them access to military-grade weapons. And I’ll fully fund the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education so that it can investigate school districts with dramatic disparities in school disciplinary actions.

Reduce homelessness and housing insecurityChildren that experience homelessness are more likely to drop out of school and more likely to become involved with the criminal system. But as housing and rental costs skyrocket and federal housing assistance doesn’t keep pace, housing insecurity is growing, particularly for families of color. A Warren administration will commit federal funding to the goal of ending homelessness in our country. My housing plan will help, by investing $500 billion over 10 years to build, preserve, and rehab affordable housing, creating 3.2 million new housing units and bringing down rental costs by 10%. It would also help families, especially families of color, buy homes and start to build wealth. Substantially improving housing affordability isn’t just good for the economy and for working families — it will also reduce homelessness and crime.

Invest in evidence-based interruption programsTo improve safety in our communities, we also need to invest in programs that prevent violence and divert criminal behavior. Models in cities like BostonOakland and Chicago demonstrate that we can successfully reduce homicide and gun violence rates through creating cross-community partnerships and focused deterrence on the small percentage of people most likely to commit violence. These programs are cost-effective and have multiplier effects: transforming community climate, improving health outcomes, and boosting local economies. My administration will invest in piloting similar programs at scale.

Decriminalize Mental Health CrisesThe solution for someone experiencing a mental health crisis should not be a badge and a gun, but police officers have become America’s de facto first mental health providers. Historically, 7–10% of police encounters involve a person affected by mental illness, and people with untreated severe mental illness are sixteen times more likely to be killed during a police encounter. People with mental illnesses are not incarcerated at higher rates because they are prone to violence. To the contrary, most are arrested for non-violent offenses, many because they lack access to necessary services. But incarcerating people with mental illness is more expensive as providing appropriate community-based treatment — instead of shuttling people into a system not built to meet their needs, we should invest in preventing people from reaching those crisis points in the first place. Medicare for All will provide continuous access to critical mental health care services, decreasing the likelihood that the police will be called as a matter of last resort. I’ll also increase funding for “co-responder” initiatives that connect law enforcement to mental health care providers and experts. And my administration will pilot evidence-based crisis response efforts to provide needed services to individuals struggling with mental illness.

Invest in diversion programs for substance abuse disorderPeople who struggle with addiction should not be incarcerated because of their disease. Mass incarceration has not reduced addiction rates or overdose deaths, because substance abuse disorder is a public health problem — and it’s long past time to treat it that way. We know that diversion programs are both more humane and a better investment than incarceration — for every dollar we invest in treatment programs, we can save $12 in future crime and health care costs. I’ll support evidence-based safe injection sites and needle exchanges, and expand the availability of buprenorphine to prevent overdoses. And my CARE Act would invest $100 billion over ten years to increase access to high quality treatment and support services. It would provide the regions most affected by the opioid crisis with the resources they need, and would allow state, local and tribal governments to use CARE Act funds to provide incarcerated individuals, and individuals in pre-trial detention, with substance use disorder treatment.

Change What We Choose to Criminalize

We face a crisis of overcriminalization. It has filled our prisons and devastated entire neighborhoods. Addressing the crisis starts by rethinking what we choose to criminalize. It is easy for legislators, fearful of being labeled soft on crime, to rubber stamp every new criminal and sentencing proposal, no matter how punitive. It’s equally easy for them to look the other way when the wealthy and well-connected abuse the rest of us. But from the Senate on down, elected lawmakers have an obligation to do better than that. Here’s where we can start.

Repeal the 1994 crime bill. The 1994 crime bill exacerbated incarceration rates in this country, punishing people more severely for even minor infractions, and limiting discretion in charging and sentencing in our judicial system. That punitive “tough on crime” approach was wrong, it was a mistake, and it needs to be repealed. There are some sections of law, like those relating to domestic violence, that should be retained — but the bulk of the law must go.

Address the legacy of the War on DrugsFor four decades, we’ve subscribed to a “War on Drugs” theory of crime, which has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families — and largely failed to curb drug use. This failure has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach. It starts with decriminalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment.

Stop criminalizing homelessnessHousing provides safety and stability, but too many experience homelessness. To make matters worse, many cities have criminalized homelessness by banning behavior associated with it, like sleeping in public or living in vehicles. These laws draw people into the justice system instead of giving them access to the services they need. They disproportionately impact communities of colorLGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities, all of whom experience higher rates of homelessness. Rather than treating the homeless like criminals, we should get them with the resources they need to get back on their feet.

Stop criminalizing povertyA simple misdemeanor like a speeding ticket shouldn’t be enough to send someone to spiraling into poverty or worse — but often the fines and fees levied by our legal system bury low-income people who are unable to pay under court-related debt, with no way out. We abolished debtors prisons nearly two hundred years ago, but we’re still criminalizing poverty in this country — low-income individuals are more likely to find themselves entangled in the system and less likely to find their way out. There is no justification for imposing unreasonably high punitive burdens on those who are least able to bear them. As president, I will fight to:

End cash bail. Around 60% of the nearly 750,000 people in jail have not been convicted of a crime — and too often, those jails are overcrowded and inhumane. Our justice system forces its citizens to choose either to submit to the charges brought against them or be penalized for wanting to fight those charges. We should allow people to return to their jobs and families while they wait for trial, reserving preventive detention only for those cases that pose a true flight or safety risk.

Restrict fines and fees levied before adjudication. In many jurisdictions individuals are charged cost-prohibitive pre-trial fees, sending them into debt even if they are ultimately acquitted of a crime. In cases of pre-trial civil forfeiture, an individual often cannot recover property seized prior to conviction. I’ll reverse the Trump administration’s policy expanding pre-trial civil forfeiture at the federal level, and restrict the use of civil forfeiture overall.

Cap the assessment of fines and fees. Jailing someone who can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars in fines on an hourly minimum wage salary is not only cruel — it’s ineffective. Criminal debt collection should be capped at a percentage of income for low-income individuals. States should also eliminate the profit incentive that drives excessive fees and fines by capping the percentage of municipal revenues derived from the justice system, and diverting seized assets into a general fund.

Eliminate fees for necessary services. Private companies and contractors can charge incarcerated people for essential services, like phone calls, bank transfers, and health care. Private companies also profit from charging individuals for their own incarceration and supervision, including through fees for re-entry, supervision, and probation. As I detailed in my plan to end private prisons, I will end this practice and ensure that private companies don’t get rich from exploiting vulnerable people.

Accountability for the wealthy and the well-connectedEqual justice also means an end to the impunity enjoyed by those with money and power. Instead of criminalizing poverty and expanding mass incarceration, I’ve proposed a new criminal negligence standard for executives of corporations with more than $1 billion in annual revenue when their company is found guilty of a crime or their negligence causes severe harm to American families. Instead of locking up people for nonviolent marijuana crimes, I’ve proposed putting pharmaceutical executives on the hook to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that damage the lives of millions. And I’ve proposed new certification requirements for executives at giant financial institutions so that we can hold them criminally accountable if the banks they oversee commit fraud.

Reform How the Law Is Enforced

While reform begins with deciding what constitutes a crime, the authority to enforce the law includes tremendous discretion. Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges make countless decisions every day that shape the reality of how our criminal justice system functions for the millions of Americans it comes into contact with. We must critically examine each aspect of the enforcement process to ensure that it is both just and consistent with public safety.

Law Enforcement ReformThe vast majority of police officers sign up so they can protect their communities. They are part of a profession that works tirelessly and takes risks every day to keep us safe. But we also know that many people of color, including Native Americans, disproportionately experience trauma at the hands of law enforcement, sometimes with life-altering consequences. On average, three people are shot and killed by the police every day, a disproportionate number of them young and Black. Others are arrested and entered into a system that unduly penalizes even minor infractions.

Everyone is less safe when trust erodes between the police and the communities they serve. Yet we’ve continued to allow policing practices that are both ineffective and discriminatory. It’s time to fundamentally change how police work is done in America: funding what works; replacing failed policies with effective, evidence-based practices that do not violate individual rights; and reframing our approach to public safety to prioritize prevention over punishment. Here’s how we do it.

Improve access to treatment and early intervention. For the third straight year, the number of suicides among law enforcement in 2018 outnumbered the line-of-duty deaths. Law enforcement officers experience higher rates of addiction, post-traumatic stress, and other trauma related disorders. I’ll invest in mental and emotional health support to help our officers do their job, including by expanding promising pilots like peer intervention and early warning programs.

Improve data collection and reporting. For nearly a century, we have measured crime in this country. It’s time we measure justice — and act when we don’t measure up. Today there is no comprehensive government database on fatal police shootings, ethics issues, misconduct complaints, or use of force incidents. My Justice Department will establish a rigorous and systematic process to collect this data, provide relevant data collection training to local law enforcement, and make data publicly available wherever possible. We’ll use that data to prioritize federal oversight and to hold police accountable for the portion of the bad policing outcomes for which they are responsible. And we’ll work with interested departments to use their own data to improve their legitimacy in the communities they serve and inform more just and effective policing.

Increase federal oversight capacity. The Obama Justice Department used its authority to investigate police departments with a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing — but resource constraints limited the number of interventions carried out. Meanwhile, the Trump administration hasn’t initiated any investigations at all. I’ll reverse the Sessions guidance limiting the use of consent decree investigations, and triple funding for the Office of Civil Rights to allow for increased investigations of departments with the highest rates of police violence and whenever there is a death in custody. In this way, we can further incentivize police departments with persistent issues to adopt best practices.

Empower State Attorneys General. Even an expanded DOJ will not be able to provide oversight for many thousands of law enforcement agencies in this country. And accountability for unconstitutional policing shouldn’t simply shut down under a hostile President like Trump. To build a more durable system, I’ll incentivize states to empower their attorneys general to conduct their own oversight of police behavior nationwide.

Demand increased civilian oversight. Community engagement can fill the gap and provide oversight where the federal government, even with increased capacity, cannot. Approximately 150 communities have civilian oversight boards, but that covers only a small percentage of law enforcement agencies in America. To expand local oversight and democratic engagement in policing, I will implement a competitive grant program that provides funding to communities that establish an independent civilian oversight mechanism for their police departments, such as a civilian oversight board or Office of Civilian Complaints. These boards should have a role in officer discipline and provide input on hiring police executives as well as hiring and promoting within the departments they oversee.

Establish a federal standard for the use of force. When cities employ more restrictive policies for police use of force, they improve both community trust and officer safety. I will direct my administration to develop and apply evidence-based standards for the use of force for federal law enforcement, incorporating proven approaches and strategies like de-escalation, verbal warning requirements, and the use of non-lethal alternatives. At the federal level, I’ll prohibit permissive pursuit policies that often result in collateral damage, like high-speed chases and shooting at moving vehicles. And I’ll work with local law enforcement agencies to ensure that training and technology deployed at the federal level can be implemented at all levels of government, helping to limit the use of force while maintaining safety for officers and the communities they are sworn to protect.

Increase federal funding for law enforcement training. Improved training can reduce the number of police-involved shootings and improve perceptions of police legitimacy. But if If we want police practices to change, then the way we train our officers must change — both when they are hired and throughout their careers. My administration will provide incentives for cities and states that hire a diverse police force and provide tools and resources to ensure that best practices on law enforcement training are available across America, providing local police with what they need to meet federal training requirements, including training on implicit bias and the scientific and psychological roots of discrimination, cultural competency, and engaging individuals with cognitive or other disabilities. And we should support evidence-based continuing education for officers throughout their careers.

Restrict qualified immunity to hold police officers accountable. When an officer abuses the law, that’s bad for law enforcement, bad for victims, and bad for communities. Without access to justice and accountability for those abuses, we cannot make constitutional due process protections real. But today, police officers who violate someone’s constitutional rights are typically shielded from civil rights lawsuits by qualified immunity — a legal rule invented by the courts that blocks lawsuits against government officials for misconduct unless a court has previously decided that the same conduct in the same context was unconstitutional. Qualified immunity has shielded egregious police misconduct from accountability and drawn criticism from across the political spectrum. Last month, for example, a federal appeals court in Atlanta granted qualified immunity to a police officer who, while aiming at a family’s dog, shot a 10-year-old boy while the child was lying on the ground 18 inches away from the officer. Just two weeks ago, another federal court used qualified immunity to dismiss a lawsuit against a school police officer who handcuffed a sobbing seven-year-old boy for refusing to go to the principal’s office. This makes no sense. I support limiting qualified immunity for law enforcement officials who are found to have violated the Constitution, and allowing victims to sue police departments directly for negligently hiring officers despite prior misconduct.

End racially discriminatory policing. Policies like stop-and-frisk and “broken windows” policing have trampled the constitutional rights of countless Americans — particularly those from Black and Brown communities — without any measurable impact on violent crime. I’ll end stop-and-frisk by directing the Justice Department to withhold federal funding from law enforcement agencies that continue to employ it and other similar practices, and I’ll work with Congress to pass legislation to prohibit profiling at all levels of law enforcement.

Separate law enforcement from immigration enforcement. The data are clear. When local law enforcement is mixed with immigration enforcement, immigrants are less likely to report crimes, and public safety suffers. It’s time to stop directing law enforcement officers to do things that undermine their ability to keep communities safe. My immigration plan will address this by ending the 287(g) and “Secure Communities” programs, putting in guidelines to protect sensitive locations like hospitals and schools, and expanding protections for immigrant survivors of violent crimes that come forward and work with law enforcement.

Demilitarize local law enforcement. Officer safety is critically important. But we don’t build trust between police and communities when we arm local law enforcement as if they are going to war. Militarizing our police contributes to mutual fear and distrust, and there is evidence to suggest it can actually make officers themselves less safe. As President, I will eliminate the transfer of military-grade weapons and lethal equipment to local police via the 1033 program, prohibit local law enforcement from buying military equipment with federal funding, and create a buy-back program for equipment already in use in our communities.

Expand the responsible use of body cameras and protect citizen privacy. Body cameras don’t solve every problem, but used consistently and appropriately they can decrease the use of force and misconduct complaints. The federal government should expand funding for body cameras — especially for smaller jurisdictions that struggle to afford them — in exchange for departments implementing accountability policies that ensure consistent and responsible camera use. I’ll also establish a task force on digital privacy in public safety to establish guardrails and appropriate privacy protections for this and other surveillance technology, including the use of facial recognition technology and algorithms that exacerbate underlying bias. And I’ll make it clear that individuals have every right to record an interaction with the police.

Reduce gun violence. We’ve learned the hard way in Massachusetts that the job of our police is made exponentially harder by the weapons flooding our streets. Common sense gun reform and meaningful safeguards will improve safety for law enforcement and the communities they serve. In 2017, almost 40,000 people died from guns in the United States. I have a plan with the goal of reducing that number by 80%, including by expanding background checks, establishing a federal licensing system, and holding the gun industry accountable for the violence promoted by their products.

Prosecutorial and Judicial ReformOur current criminal system is complex and places enormous power in the hands of the state. The government controls what leads to pursue, what charges are levied, whether a plea is offered, and how long someone spends behind bars. It has massive resources at its disposal, and enjoys few obligations to share information and limited oversight of its actions. All of this makes it challenging to ensure that the accused can go to trial, can get a fair trial, and can receive a just and reasonable sentence if convicted. To make matters worse, race permeates every aspect of the system — people of color are twice as likely to be charged with crimes that carry a mandatory minimum sentence. Reform requires a transparent system that emphasizes justice, that gives people a fighting chance — and truly treats everyone equally, regardless of color. Here’s how we can start.

Strengthen public defenders and expand access to counsel. The Sixth Amendment provides every American accused of a crime with the right to an attorney — but too many defendants cannot afford one, and too often, public defenders are under-resourced, overworked, and overwhelmed. If we expect fair adversarial trials, we need to balance resources on both sides of each case in every jurisdiction. I’ll fund federal public defenders and expand targeted grant funding for public defenders at the state level, to ensure that they have the tools to effectively defend their clients. I’ll also reopen and expand DOJ’s Office for Access to Justice, which worked with state and local governments to expand access to counsel. We should ensure that our public defenders are paid a fair salary for their work, and that their caseloads allow for the comprehensive defense of their clients. Finally, I’ll provide funding for language and cultural competency training, including on gender identity and treatment of individuals with disabilities, so that public defenders are best able to serve their clients.

Rein in prosecutorial abuses. Prosecutors are enormously powerful and often not subject to scrutiny or accountability. I will support a set of reforms that would rein in the most egregious prosecutorial abuses and make the system fairer, including reducing the use of coercive plea bargaining by DOJ prosecutors at the federal level, establishing open-file discovery, and putting in place responsible standards for evidence gathering. I’ll establish a Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct to make additional recommendations for best practices and monitor adoption of those recommendations. And I’ll create an independent prosecutorial integrity unit to hold accountable prosecutors who abuse their power.

Expand access to justice for people wrongfully imprisoned. Defendants who are wrongfully imprisoned have the right to challenge their detention in court through a procedure known as habeas corpus. The Framers believed this right was so important to achieving justice that they guaranteed it specifically in the Constitution. It’s particularly important for minority defendants — Black Americans, for example, make up only 13% of the population but a plurality of wrongful convictions. In 1996, at the height of harsh federal policies that drove mass incarceration, Congress made it absurdly difficult for wrongfully imprisoned individuals to bring these cases in federal court. Since then, conservative Supreme Court Justices have built on those restrictions — making it nearly impossible for defendants to receive habeas relief even when they have actual proof of innocence. We should repeal these overly restrictive habeas rules, make it harder for courts to dismiss these claims on procedural technicalities, and make it easier to apply new rules that emerge from these cases to people who were wrongfully imprisoned before those rules came into effect.

Protect the rights of survivors. Crime victims have the right to safety and justice, the right to be consulted and informed about the status of their case, and the right to be treated with dignity and respect. We should provide support for those who have experienced trauma, including medical care and safe housing. This is particularly true for those who have experienced sexual assault or violence at the hands of an intimate partner. I’ll also fight to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and provide full funding to eliminate the rape kit backlog across the country.

Appointing a diverse judicial bench. The justice system should reflect the country it serves. Judicial appointments are primarily white and male, and large numbers tend to have a prosecutorial background. Diversity of experience matters. That’s why I have pushed for increasing the professional diversity of our federal judiciary to insulate the courts from corporate capture, and why I support gender and racial diversity for judicial nominees. I’ll appoint a diverse slate of judges, including those who have a background defending civil liberties or as public defenders.

Take into account the views of those most impacted by the system.As President, I will establish an advisory board comprised of survivors of violence, along with formerly incarcerated individuals. I’ll consult with this advisory board and listen to the needs of those who have first-hand experience with the system as we find fair and just solutions to the challenges we face.

Reforming Incarceration

The federal prison population has grown 650% since 1980, and costs have ballooned by 685%. This explosion has been driven in large part by rules requiring mandatory minimum sentences and other excessively long sentencing practices. These harsh sentencing practices are not only immoral, there’s little evidence that they are effective. As president I will fight change them.

Reduce mandatory minimumsThe 1994 crime bill’s mandatory minimums and “truth-in-sentencing” provisions that require offenders to serve the vast majority of their sentences have not proven effective. Congress should reduce or eliminate these provisions, giving judges more flexibility in sentencing decisions, with the goal of reducing incarceration to mid-1990s levels. My administration will also reverse the Sessions memo that requires federal prosecutors to seek the most severe possible penalties, and allow federal prosecutors discretion to raise the charge standards for misdemeanors and seek shorter sentences for felony convictions.

Raise the age for criminal liability. We know that cognition and decision-making skills continue to develop beyond the teenage years. For that reason, many states have raised the age of adult criminal liability to at least 17, or granted additional discretion to prosecutors when charging offenders between the ages of 16 and 18. The federal government should do the same — raising the age of adult criminal liability to 18, eliminating life-without-parole sentences for minors, and diverting young adult offenders into rehabilitative programs wherever possible.

End the death penaltyStudies show that capital punishment is often applied in a manner biased against people of color and those with a mental illness. I oppose the death penalty. A Warren administration would reverse Attorney General Barr’s decision to move forward with federal executions, and Congress should abolish the death penalty.

Use the pardon and clemency powers broadly to right systemic injusticesThe president has significant powers to grant clemency and pardons, and historically presidents have used that power broadly. But today’s hierarchical process at DOJ results in relatively few and conservative clemency recommendations. I’ll remove the clemency process from DOJ, instead empowering a clemency board to make recommendations directly to the White House. I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished.

Improving conditions in prisonToday prisons are often understaffed and overcrowded, making them dangerous for both inmates and corrections officers. Even as we fight to reduce incarceration levels, we should support improved staffing levels and better training for corrections officers, and humane conditions for those behind bars. As president, I will:

Ensure that incarceration meets basic human rights standards. From inadequate health care to dangerous overcrowding, today our prison system is not meeting the government’s basic responsibility to keep the people in its care safe. I’ll embrace a set of standards for the Bureau of Prisons to fix this. That includes accommodating religious practices, providing reasonable accommodations for prisoners with disabilities, and limiting restrictive housing in accordance with evidence-based best practices. We should ensure that trans people are assigned to facilities that align with their gender identity and provide the unique medical and psychiatric care they need, including access to hormone treatments and help with adjusting to their care. And we should eliminate solitary confinement, which provides little carcerative benefit and has been demonstrated to harm prisoners’ mental and physical health, in favor of safe alternatives.

Protect special populations. Vulnerable individuals like pregnant women, victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ individuals often require special protections while behind bars. I’ll implement a rigorous auditing program to ensure that prisons are adhering to legal requirements to protect LGBTQ+ individuals and others from sexual violence and assault while incarcerated, and prosecute prison staff who engage in misconduct. I’ll ensure that juveniles are not housed in adult facilities. I’ll also eliminate the use of solitary confinement for protective purposes. Instead, I’ll direct the Bureau of Prisons to establish a set of standards and reforms to protect the most vulnerable in our prison system in a way that does not involve confining a person for more than 20 hours a day.

Invest in programs that facilitate rehabilitation. The evidence is clear: providing education and opportunity behind bars reduces recidivism when people leave prison. But when prison populations went up and budgets went down, rehabilitation services were often the first cuts. In a world where the vast majority of prisoners will eventually leave prison, this makes no sense. I’ll double grant funding for these services in our prisons, expanding programs focused on things like vocational training, anger management, and parenting skills.

Expand mental health and addiction treatment. 14% of prisoners meet the threshold for serious psychological distress, and many more struggle with addiction — but too often, they receive prison time rather than treatment. And instead of increasing access to treatment in prison, the Bureau of Prisons has reduced it. Providing mental health treatment during incarceration reduces recidivism. We must take a comprehensive approach to incarcerated people who face mental health and addiction challenges, including requiring an adequate number of counselors and addiction specialists, individualized treatment, and increased access to medication-assisted treatment.

Eliminate private prisons. I have called to eliminate private prisonsthat make millions off the backs of incarcerated people. We should also end all-foreign or “criminal alien requirement” facilities, which are reported to have higher negative outcomes.

Support Reentry

The period after release from prison can be challenging for returning citizens. During this critical period, they are more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be rearrested, more likely to overdose, and more likely to die. Recidivism rates remain high, in part because our prisons have not fulfilled their rehabilitative function, and in part because lack of opportunity after release drives individuals to re-offend. On top of all of this, more than 60,000 inmates in our prisons are there because of technical violations of their parole — for offenses as minor as a speeding ticket. We need evidence-based programs and interventions to break the cycle of incarceration and set formerly incarcerated individuals up for success when they return to their families and their communities. This is particularly true for youth and minors, who are especially vulnerable when returning to an unstable environment. Here are some of the steps I will take.

Pressure states to eliminate collateral sanctionsMillions of Americans are currently on parole or probation. We know that reducing the barriers to full reintegration in society reduces recidivism, but the system is rife with collateral consequences that hamper reentry for formerly incarcerated people who have served their time — from restrictions on occupational licensing to housing to the disenfranchisement of over 3 million returning citizens. We should remove those barriers and allow those who have served their time to find work and fully rejoin their communities.

Reduce needlessly restrictive parole requirementsTechnical parole and probation violations make up a large number of all state prison admissions, sometimes for infractions as minor as a paperwork error. While many rules are made at the state level, the federal government should seek to remove those barriers wherever possible, reduce parole requirements for low-level offenders, and remove the threat of jail time for minor parole violations.

Reduce discrimination during reentryI’ll reverse the guidance that exempts privately run re-entry programs that contract with the Bureau of Prisons from anti-discrimination laws, restoring protections for individuals with disabilities and those that encounter discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Establish a federal expungement optionMany states provide a certificate of recovery for nonviolent offenders who have served their time and maintained a clean record for a certain number of years. This should be replicated at the federal level.

Ensuring Reform at the State and Local Level

The federal government oversees just 12% of the incarcerated population and only a small percentage of law enforcement and the overall criminal legal system. To achieve real criminal justice reform on a national scale, we must move the decisions of states and local governments as well.

My administration will work with state and local governments and incentivize adoption of new federal standards through the grantmaking process. Federal grants make up nearly one third of state budgets, and states and local authorities spend about 6% of their budget on law enforcement functions. My administration would reprioritize state and local grant making toward a restorative approach to justice, and expand grant funding through categorical grants that require funds to be used for criminal justice reform and project grants that require funding to be allocated to specific programs. When necessary, my plan would also use federal enforcement authority. My administration would expand on the Obama-era practice of using Department of Justice consent decrees and other judicial settlements to enforce federal standards and remedy constitutional violations at the state and local level. My plan would also leverage the federal government’s Spending Clause authority and ability to impose civil rights mandates using cross-cutting requirements to ensure that state and local governments comply with federal criminal justice reform standards.

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Bernie Sanders Releases ‘Justice and Safety for All’ Plan to Reform Criminal Justice

Senator Bernie Sanders, at Second Democratic Debate, has released his plan to reform the criminal justice system.

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Bernie Sanders released his plan to reform the entire criminal justice system. This is from the Sanders campaign:

Blueprint aims to reform every aspect of America’s dysfunctional criminal justice system, ridding it of institutional racism and corporate profiteering

COLUMBIA, SC – Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running to be the Democratic candidate for president, released a comprehensive plan to reform the entire American criminal justice system in a speech he delivered August 18 in the Greenview neighborhood of Columbia, South Carolina. The plan is designed to root out the institutional racism and corporate profiteering that is plaguing the existing system.

“If we stand together, we can eliminate private prisons and detention centers.  No more profiteering from locking people up. If we stand together we can end the disastrous “war on drugs.” If we stand together we can end cash bail.  No more keeping people in jail because they’re too poor. If we stand together we can enact real police department reform and prosecute police brutality. If we stand together, there is nothing, nothing, nothing that we cannot accomplish.”

Sanders has fought mass incarceration during his decades in Congress, and he campaigned for president in 2016 on a pledge to end for-profit prisons — a pledge that other Democrats have subsequently decided to support 4 years later. Sanders’ new plan reiterates his original call to ban for-profit prisons, and builds on his leadership on criminal justice with new proposals for a top-to-bottom reform of America’s law enforcement, judicial and incarceration systems. They include:

End for-profit greed in our criminal justice system, top to bottom

  • Ending for-profit greed in our criminal justice system, top to bottom, including banning cash bail and banning civil asset forfeiture, which allows police departments to seize property from people who have not been accused or convicted of a crime.
     
  • Ensure the criminal justice system is not the “best justice money can buy” by vastly increasing funding for public defenders and creating a federal formula to ensure populations have a minimum number of public defenders to meet their needs, and working with states to set a minimum starting salary for public defenders.

End Mass Incarceration and Excessive Sentencing and Inhumane Incarceration and Transform the Way We Police Communities

  • Reversing mass incarceration and setting a goal of cutting the incarcerated population in half.
     
  • Transforming the way we police our communities, creating an unarmed civilian corp of first responders to handle mental health emergencies, homelessness, and other low-level issues that should not require contact with the police and criminal justice system.
     
  • Creating national standards for use of police force that emphasize de-escalation rather than violence, and holding police misconduct to strict federal standards, including limiting qualified immunity for police officers, creating a federal deadly use of force database, and a registry of disreputable officers.
     
  • Ending the War on Drugs, including legalizing marijuana and expunging past convictions for marijuana-related offenses and finally ending the sentencing disparities for crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses.
     
  • Abolishing the death penalty and solitary confinement.
     
  • Enacting a Prisoner Bill of Rights for incarcerated individuals, including living wages, access to families, access to educational and vocational training, and the right to vote.
  • Reverse the Criminalization of Communities, End Cycles of Violence and Provide Support to Survivors of Crime

Reversing the criminalization of disability, addiction, and homelessness.  

  • Treat children in the criminal justice system as children. This means raising the age to charge children in adult court to 18, ending long mandatory minimum sentences and life without parole sentences for youth, decriminalizing truancy, and investing in youth diversion programs and alternatives to the court and prison system.
     
  • End cycles of violence and interrupt them before they begin. This means focusing law enforcement resources on solving homicides and other serious crimes, funding Cure Violence programs and similar proven violence interruption models, and ending the national rape kit backlog. 
     
  • Support the victims and survivors of crimes by providing sustained resources to survivors and their families, including mental health care, trauma recovery services, relocation services, and assistance with basic needs.


Read the full plan HERE.

White House Announces New Commitments to Fair Chance Business Pledge and Actions to Improve Criminal Justice System

Protesting for justice in front of Federal Courthouse in downtown Manhattan, NY  © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Protesting for justice in front of Federal Courthouse in downtown Manhattan, NY © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In the waning days of his administration, and in face of what is shaping up to be the most regressive administration intent on reversing the gains hard-fought over a century toward social, political, environmental justice, President Barack Obama is working feverishly to continue to make advances in criminal justice system. Donald Trump has pledged to repeal each and every one of Obama’s executive actions.

The White House issued this Fact Sheet on November 30, 2016: 

FACT SHEET: White House Announces New Commitments to the Fair Chance Business Pledge and Actions to Improve the Criminal Justice System

Since the President took office, this Administration has been committed to reforming America’s criminal justice system and highlighting the importance of reducing barriers facing justice-involved individuals trying to put their lives back on track.Over 2.2 million men and women are incarcerated in American prisons, and over 11 million spend time in our jails, and the vast majority of them will return to their communities. Improving education and job opportunities for these individuals has a recognized effect of reducing crime, and will make our communities safer.

Today, the White House is hosting a convening on criminal justice reform to discuss the progress and advancements that have been made over the past eight years and the opportunities that remain to tackle persistent problems. This event is part of the Administration’s continued efforts to bring together Americans who are working to improve the criminal justice system, from activists engaging in communities around the nation to law enforcement and elected officials working to lower the crime and incarceration rates, to formerly incarcerated people who are earning their second chance.

In conjunction with this event, the White House is announcing a round of new signatories to the Fair Chance Business Pledge and a series of Administration actions to enhance the fairness and effectiveness of the criminal justice system including:

  • Final Office of Personnel Management “Ban the Box” Rule
  • Federal Bureau of Prison Reforms
  • White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Report

These announcements build on the Administration’s longstanding commitment to reforming the criminal justice system, improving reentry outcomes, and removing unnecessary obstacles facing formerly incarcerated individuals.

Fair Chance Business Pledge

In April, the White House launched the Fair Chance Business Pledge encouraging companies to take action to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed, including individuals who have had contact with the criminal justice system. The pledge represents a call-to-action for all members of the private sector to improve their communities and expand their talent pools by eliminating unnecessary hiring barriers facing those with a criminal record.

Today’s signatories to the Fair Chance Business Pledge bring the total number of pledged employers to over 300. The companies and organizations that have signed the pledge collectively employ over 5 million Americans. The new commitments come from a diverse range of employers including: Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar, CVS Health, Gap, Intel, Kroger, LinkedIn, Monsanto, Perdue Farms, Shinola, Target, Tyson Foods, Union Square Hospitality Group, and WeWork.

Additionally, Glassdoor created a Fair Chance Pledge badge that companies can add to their profile on the website to proudly demonstrate their commitment to maintaining hiring and training programs for individuals with criminal records.

The Department of Justice recently funded the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSGJC) to assist Second Chance grantees and the field at-large through the National Reentry Resource Center. The award includes funding to provide employer-focused outreach and education to promote fair chance hiring practices. A coalition of Fair Chance Business Pledge Signatories has committed to working together with CSGJC and other external partners to share their successes in adopting fair chance hiring practices and encourage other businesses to follow suit.

Today’s announcement is further evidence of the private sector’s support for a more fair justice system, and the Pledge is one of many initiatives where the White House has successfully partnered with the private sector to increase opportunity for all Americans. 

By signing the Fair Chance Business Pledge, these companies are:

  • Voicing strong support for economic opportunity for all, including the approximately 70 million Americans who have some form of a criminal record.
  • Demonstrating an ongoing commitment to take action to reduce barriers to a fair shot at a second chance, including practices like “banning the box” by delaying criminal history questions until later in the hiring process; ensuring that information regarding an applicant’s criminal record is considered in proper context; and engaging in hiring practices that do not unnecessarily place jobs out of reach for those with criminal records.

THE FAIR CHANCE BUSINESS PLEDGE

We applaud the growing number of public and private sector organizations nationwide who are taking action to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed, including individuals who have had contact with the criminal justice system. When around 70 million Americans – nearly one in three adults – have a criminal record, it is important to remove unnecessary barriers that may prevent these individuals from gaining access to employment, training, education and other basic tools required for success in life. We are committed to providing individuals with criminal records, including formerly incarcerated individuals, a fair chance to participate in the American economy.

Companies and organizations interested in joining the Fair Chance Business Pledge can do so by signing up HERE. 

Today’s signatories include:

  • Al Abbas Cookies
  • Alley Taco
  • American Eagle Sealcoating and Asphalt LLC
  • Amity Foundation
  • Andrews Funeral Home
  • Avalon Breads
  • Berry Much Yogurt
  • Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
  • Brooks Lumber
  • Butterball Farms, Inc.
  • Byblos
  • C.W. Morris – J.W. Henry Funeral Home
  • Capital Area ReEntry Coalition
  • Capitol City Contracting, Inc.
  • Carpenter’s Shelter
  • Cava Grill
  • Center for Living and Learning
  • Clif Bar
  • Colorado Mountain College
  • Court Programs, Inc.
  • CPG Partnership Strategies LLC
  • CSI Saddlepads LLC
  • CVS Health
  • D.C. Central Kitchen
  • Dillard & Associates
  • DRP Systems
  • Ecolibrium3
  • Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute
  • Executives’ Alliance for Boys and Men of Color
  • Fair Chance Workforce Interface LLC
  • FoodCorps, Inc.
  • Friends Outside
  • Gap
  • GeoFi
  • Get Ready Driving Academy
  • Glassdoor
  • Golden State Foods Corp.
  • Grandy’s Coney Island
  • Green Dot Stables
  • HopCat Detroit
  • InService Enterprise, LLC
  • Intel Corporation
  • Isidore Electronics Recycling
  • IT Total Care, Inc.
  • JAX Chamber
  • Jeff’s 40 Minute Cleaners
  • JSJ Staffing, LLC
  • Kansas City Community Source, Inc.
  • Konsultera
  • The Kroger Company
  • Lawson Screen & Digital Products, Inc.
  • Life Restoration CEDA
  • Linden Resources
  • LinkedIn
  • Los Angeles Black Worker Center
  • Los Angeles Conservation Corps
  • Lou’s Deli
  • Makin’ Movez LLC
  • Maria’s Italian Kitchen
  • Mark O’s Bar & Grill
  • MI United
  • MOD Pizza
  • Moe Appliance
  • Monsanto
  • National Dry Goods Company
  • Newton Brown Urban Design
  • Nexus Services, Inc.
  • NXIS Enterprises, LLC
  • Olive Branch Village Project
  • O’Neill Construction Group
  • Oscar’s Coney Island
  • Pass Job Connection
  • Perdue Farms, Inc.
  • Pet Supplies Plus
  • Phyllis Wheatley Community Center
  • Portland Bottling Company
  • Q Stride Inc.
  • RECAP, Inc.
  • Restoration Law Center
  • Roman Labor Services Corp.
  • Root & Rebound
  • Saucy By Nature
  • Shinola Detroit, LLC
  • Skill Source Group
  • St. Louis Wing Company LLC
  • Stratford University
  • SunHarvest Solar
  • Super Tek Group
  • TakeAction Minnesota
  • Taqueria El Nacimiento
  • Target
  • TBS Facility Services Group
  • The CPAI Group, Inc.
  • The Grey Door Boutique
  • The Lancaster Food Company
  • The Last Mile
  • The National Incarceration Association
  • The Pate House
  • The Phax Group, LLC
  • The Water Station
  • Transmedia Capital
  • TransNation Holdings, LLC
  • Trinosophes
  • Tyson Foods
  • Union Square Hospitality Group
  • Vaughan’s Public House
  • Virginia Employment Commission
  • WeWork
  • Work in Progress
  • Year Up
  • Yuca’s
  • Zaraxo

 Federal “Ban the Box” Rule

Today the Office of Personnel Management is finalizing a rule to ensure that applicants with a criminal history have a fair shot to compete for Federal jobs. The rule effectively “bans the box” for a significant number of positions in the Federal Government by delaying the point in the hiring process when agencies can inquire about an applicant’s criminal history until a conditional offer is made. This change prevents candidates from being eliminated before they have a chance to demonstrate their qualifications.

As the nation’s largest employer, the Federal Government should lead the way and serve as a model for all employers – both public and private. Banning the box for Federal hiring is an important step. It sends a clear signal to applicants, agencies, and employers across the country that the Federal Government is committed to making it easier for those who have paid their debts to society to successfully return to their communities, while staying true to the merit system principles that govern our civil service by promoting fair competition between applicants from all segments of society.

Federal Bureau of Prison Reforms

As part of the Justice Department’s deep commitment to a fair, effective criminal justice system, the Department announced today a series of reforms at the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) designed to reduce recidivism and increase the likelihood of inmates’ safe and successful return to the community.  Today the department released a memo from Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates on reforms to residential reentry centers including covering the cost of obtaining state-issued IDs for inmates prior to their release from custody. Additionally, BOP is creating a semi-autonomous school district within the federal prison system and providing additional services for female inmates when the BOP facility in Danbury, Connecticut, resumes housing female inmates later this month. The Danbury facility will also house BOP’s first-ever integrated treatment facility for female inmates.

Last year, with the Department’s support, BOP retained outside consultants to review the agency’s operations and recommend changes designed to reduce the likelihood of inmates re-offending after their release from prison. As part of today’s announcement, BOP is launching a new website, justice.gov/prison-reform, that compiles current and ongoing reforms at BOP, and includes the final reports from the outside consultants.

White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Report

Today the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (WH-LAIR) is issuing its first annual report to President Obama, “Expanding Access to Justice, Strengthening Federal Programs.” This report documents the significant steps that the 22 federal agency members of WH-LAIR have taken to integrate civil legal aid into programs designed to serve low-income and vulnerable people where doing so can both improve their effectiveness and increase access to justice.

Co-chaired by Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz, and staffed by the DOJ Office for Access to Justice, WH-LAIR was established to help provide legal assistance to Americans in need to further our shared goals of breaking the cycle of domestic violence and elder abuse epidemic, ending homelessness among veterans, and helping to remove obstacles to employment for jobseekers. Recognizing the power of legal aid to both increase the availability of meaningful access to justice and improve outcomes in many federal programs, WH-LAIR agencies have been working together since 2012 to integrate legal aid into their programs, policies and initiatives.

The report addresses key federal priorities where civil legal aid improves program outcomes, and also describes agencies’ efforts to partner with legal aid organizations to meet the needs of special populations, including veterans and servicemembers, tribes and tribal members, people with disabilities, people with criminal records, crime victims and disaster survivors.

 

Brooklyn Brawl: Democrats Clinton & Sanders Debate Gun Violence & Criminal Justice

Democratic Presidential Candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders meet for a debate moderated by CNN at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Brooklyn, ahead of the April 19 New York State primary © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Democratic Presidential Candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders meet for a debate moderated by CNN at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Brooklyn, ahead of the April 19 New York State primary © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Ahead of the April 19 New York State Primary, the gloves came off between the two contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, at what is being called “The Brooklyn Brawl” – the Democratic Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. 

The confrontation was the most contentious to date, but still substantive with both candidates making strong arguments on major issues. 

Here are annotated highlights from the “Brooklyn Brawl” – the debate between Democratic contenders for the nomination for president, former Secretary of State and New York State Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, based on a transcript provided by CNN, the news organization that hosted the debate, April 14. 

In this section, the candidates discuss gun violence and criminal justice. 

Gun Violence & Criminal Justice

Guns in America. Secretary Clinton, you’ve said that Vermont, Senator Sanders’ home state, has, quote, “the highest per capita number of guns that end up committing crimes in New York.” But only 1.2 percent of the guns recovered in New York in 2014 were from Vermont. Are you seriously blaming Vermont, and implicitly Senator Sanders, for New York’s gun violence? 

CLINTON: No, of course not. Of course not. This is — this is a serious difference between us. (Sanders starts to laugh) And what I want to start by saying — it’s not a laughing matter — 90 people on average a day are killed or commit suicide or die in accidents from guns, 33,000 people a year. I take it really seriously, because I have spent more time than I care to remember being with people who have lost their loved ones.

“So, yes, we have a problem in America. We need a president who will stand up against the gun lobby. We need a president who will fight for commonsense gun safety reforms. (APPLAUSE)

And what we have here is a big difference. Senator Sanders voted against the Brady Bill five times. He voted for the most important NRA priority, namely giving immunity from liability to gun-makers and dealers, something that is at the root of a lot of the problems that we are facing.

“Then he doubled down on that in the New York Daily News interview, when asked whether he would support the Sandy Hook parents suing to try to do something to rein in the advertising of the AR-15, which is advertised to young people as being a combat weapon, killing on the battlefield. He said they didn’t deserve their day in court. I could not disagree more.

“And, finally, this is the only industry in America, the only one (APPLAUSE) that has this kind of special protection. We hear a lot from Senator Sanders about the greed and recklessness of Wall Street, and I agree. We’ve got to hold Wall Street accountable, well, what about the greed and recklessness of gun manufacturers and dealers in America?” (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING)

Sanders then attacked her for not answering the question about whether Vermont was responsible for New York’s gun violence, to which Blitzer said, “She said no.” 

Sanders then went on to boast how he probably lost his first election for Congress, in 1988, because of the NRA. But the point is that he never challenged the NRA since (even though he now boasts of a D-minus record from the NRA). Caving to lobbyists is not just about who gives money, but who threatens to throw resources at defeating you – in both instances, the lobbyist controls the elected official. 

Clinton said as much in her rebuttal:

CLINTON: Well, the facts are that most of the guns that end up committing crimes in New York come from out of state. They come from the states that don’t have kind of serious efforts to control guns that we do in New York.

“But let me say this — in 1988, as we’ve heard on every debate occasion, Senator Sanders did run for the Congress and he lost. He came back in 1990 and he won, and during that campaign he made a commitment to the NRA that he would be against waiting periods.

“And, in fact, in his own book, he talks about his 1990 campaign, and here’s what he said. He clearly was helped by the NRA, because they ran ads against his opponent. So, then he went to the Congress, where he has been a largely very reliable supporter of the NRA. Voting — he kept his word to the NRA, he voted against the Brady Bill five times because it had waiting periods in it. Thankfully, enough people finally voted for it to keep guns out of the hands of who should not have them.” (APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: Senator, you recently said you do not think crime victims should be able to sue gun makers for damages. The daughter of the Sandy Hook Elementary School who was killed back in the 2012 mass shooting, says you owe her and families an apology. Do you?

SANDERS: What we need to do is to do everything that we can to make certain that guns do not fall into the hands of people who do not have them.

“Now, I voted against this gun liability law because I was concerned that in rural areas all over this country, if a gun shop owner sells a weapon legally to somebody, and that person then goes out and kills somebody, I don’t believe it is appropriate that that gun shop owner who just sold a legal weapon to be held accountable and be sued.

“But, what I do believe is when gun shop owners and others knowingly are selling weapons to people who should not have them — somebody walks in, they want thousands of rounds of ammunition, or they want a whole lot of guns, yes, that gun shop owner or that gun manufacturer should be held liable.”

BLITZER: So, Senator, do you owe the Sandy Hook families an apology? 

SANDERS: No, I don’t think I owe them an apology. They are in court today, and actually they won a preliminary decision today. They have the right to sue, and I support them and anyone else who wants the right to sue.

CLINTON: Well, I believe that the law that Senator Sanders voted for that I voted against, giving this special protection to gun manufacturers and to dealers, is an absolute abdication of responsibility on the part of those who voted for it. 

“This is a unique gift given to only one industry in the world by the United States Congress, as Senator Murphy from Connecticut said, we have tougher standards holding toy gun manufacturers and sellers to account than we do for real guns.

“And the point that Senator Sanders keeps making about how he wouldn’t want a mom and pop store — that was not the point of this. And if he can point to any, any incident where that happened, I would love to hear about it.

“What was really going on, I’ll tell you, because it has a lot to do with New York City. New York City was on the brink of being able to hold manufacturers and dealers accountable through a very carefully crafted legal strategy. The NRA came to their supporters in the Congress and said, stop it, stop it now, and Senator Sanders joined those who did.”

1994 Crime Bill

Errol Lewis, of New York 1 Time Warner Cable News, once again took up an issue that has been used against Clinton: Secretary Clinton, the 1994 crime bill that you supported [when she was First Lady] added 100,000 police officers across the country and banned certain assault weapons. It also imposed tougher prison sentences and eliminated federal funding for inmate education. Looking at the crime bill as a whole, do you believe it was a net positive or do you think it was a mistake? 

CLINTON: Well, I think that it had some positive aspects to it. And you mentioned some of them. The Violence Against Women Act, which has been a very important piece of legislation, in my opinion. (APPLAUSE)

“And it also did some things which were to provide more opportunities for young people. So if we were to have the balance sheet on one side, there are some positive actions and changes. 

“On the other side, there were decisions that were made that now we must revisit and we have to correct. I think that sentences got much too long. The original idea was not that we would increase sentences for non-violent low-level offenders, but once the federal government did what it did, states piled on.

“So we have a problem. And the very first speech I gave in this campaign was about what I will do to reform the criminal justice system and end the over-mass incarceration. 

“So I think that if all of us go and look back at where we were, Senator Sanders voted for the crime bill, and he says the same thing, there were some good things, and things that we have to change and learn from. 

“So that’s how I see it. And I think we ought to be putting our attention on forging a consensus to make the changes that will divert more people from the criminal justice system to start, to tackle systemic racism and divert people in the beginning.”

Louis then came back with a second attack: LOUIS: Now earlier this year, a South Carolina voter told your daughter Chelsea, quote, “I think a lot of African-Americans want to hear, you know what, we made a mistake.” Chelsea said she has heard you apologize, but went on to say that if the voter hadn’t heard it then, quote, “it’s clearly insufficient.”  Do you regret your advocacy for the crime bill?  

CLINTON: Well, look, I supported the crime bill. My husband has apologized. He was the president who actually signed it, Senator Sanders voted for it. I’m sorry for the consequences that were unintended and that have had a very unfortunate impact on people’s lives. I’ve seen the results of what has happened in families and in communities.

“That’s why I chose to make my very first speech a year ago on this issue, Errol, because I want to focus the attention of our country and to make the changes we need to make. And I also want people (APPLAUSE) especially I want — I want white people — I want white people to recognize that there is systemic racism. It’s also in employment, it’s in housing, but it is in the criminal justice system, as well.” (APPLAUSE)

LOUIS: Senator Sanders, earlier this week at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, you called out President Clinton for defending Secretary Clinton’s use of the term super-predator back in the ’90s when she supported the crime bill. Why did you call him out?

SANDERS: Because it was a racist term, and everybody knew it was a racist term. (APPLAUSE)

“Look, much of what Secretary Clinton said was right. We had a crime bill. I voted for it. It had the Violence Against Women Act in it. When as mayor of Burlington, we worked very hard to try to eliminate domestic violence. This took us a good step forward. We’re talking about the weapon that killed the children in Sandy Hook. This banned assault weapons, not insignificant.

“But where we are today is we have a broken criminal justice system. We have more people in jail than any other country on Earth. And in my view, what we have got to do is rethink the system from the bottom on up. And that means, for a start — and we don’t talk about this. The media doesn’t talk about it — you got 51 percent of African-American kids today who graduated high school who are unemployed or underemployed. You know what I think? Maybe we invest in jobs and education for those kids, not jails and incarceration. (APPLAUSE)

“And I’ll tell you what else. And I’ll tell you what else I think. And that is, we have got — and this is the difference between the secretary and myself as I understand it. We have got to have the guts to rethink the so-called war on drugs. Too many lives have been destroyed because people possessed marijuana, millions over a 30-year period. And that is why I believe we should take marijuana out of the federal Controlled Substance Act.” (APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Well, look, I think that, as Senator Sanders said about what I said, I will say about what he said. I think that we recognize that we have a set of problems that we cannot ignore and we must address. And that is why I have been promoting for my entire adult life the idea of investing early in kids, early childhood education, universal pre-K, like what Mayor de Blasio brought to New York. We have got to help more kids get off to a good start. That’s why I want a good teacher in a good school for every child, regardless of the zip code that child lives in and to be really focused on how we build ladders of opportunity and tear down these barriers that stand in the way of people getting ahead.

Senator Sanders, I have a question for you related to this. So you’ve said that by the end of your first term as president, the U.S. will no longer lead the world in mass incarceration. To fulfill that promise, you’d have to release roughly half a million prisoners. How are you going to do that, since the vast majority of American prisoners are not under federal jurisdiction?

SANDERS: We’re going to work with state governments all over this country. And you know what? In a very divided Congress, and a very divided politics in America, actually the one area where there is some common ground is conservatives understand that it’s insane to be spending $80 billion a year locking up 2.2 million people. 

“With federal and presidential leadership, we will work with state governments to make sure that people are released from jail under strong supervision, that they get the kind of job training and education they need so they can return to their communities. On this one, Errol, actually I think you’re going to see progressive and conservative support. We can do it, if we’re prepared to be bold.”

Next: Climate Change, Energy & the Environment

See also:

Brooklyn Brawl: Democrats Clinton & Sanders Debate Qualifications, Credibility 

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