Special to The Dallas Examiner
Presidential candidate Tom Steyer unveiled a plan on Jan. 24 to reform the criminal justice system to end mass incarceration, breaking the school-to-prison pipeline and fixing the pay-to-play justice system. Steyer’s plan pursues aggressive reforms including doubling the juvenile justice program to keep kids out of prison, and ending the prison industrial complex by closing private prisons, abolishing cash bail and court fees. The plan would reduce the number of individuals entering the criminal justice system, prioritize rehabilitative efforts behind bars, and support individuals when they return to society.
“For too long, our nation’s criminal justice system has perpetuated a system of mass incarceration, punishment, and profiteering,” Steyer said. “The system was built on racism, and preys on the poor and the socioeconomically disadvantaged. It is time to finally move towards a system that reflects our best values, and in order to do that we must break the corporate stranglehold on our government that exacerbates the prison-industrial complex, and return
power to the American people.”
Acknowledging the fact that American correctional facilities lock up a higher percentage of the national population than any other country in the world, Steyer’s plan targets the root causes of the criminal justice system’s injustices. The plan accounts for the fact that communities of color and the poor are punished at disproportionate rates, and is clear-eyed about the exorbitant cost the current system poses to taxpayers, with recent estimates placing the yearly price tag at $182 billion.
“In the post-Jim Crow Texas, racism still plays a significant role in sentencing for Black and Brown people,” stated Omar El-Halwagi, Texas State Director for Steyer’s campaign, “Our current system targets low-income individuals and people of color. Tom is the only candidate for president who can end the war on drugs, reform our criminal justice system that preys on the poor and those of darker complexion, and shift funding from incarcerating people toward rebuilding the communities that Washington has neglected.”
Steyer understands that the only way to move forward as a country is to reorient the current system towards addressing the underlying issues that may lead to criminal behavior, focusing on rehabilitating those who enter the system, and ensuring returning citizens receive the necessary support to take advantage of a second chance.
Steyer’s plan vows to:
- Implement progressive reforms of the juvenile justice system. This includes creating a Bureau of Juvenile Justice within the Department of Justice that would assume and expand the current responsibilities of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, administer key grant programs to the states that encourage innovation and progressive outcomes, and coordinate with the Health and Human Services Agency, Housing and Urban Development Agency, Department of Education, and others to address the factors that impact a child’s life and can lead to incarceration, including healthcare, mental health, hunger, foster care, and child abuse. It also means using the powers of the executive branch to encourage state and local governments to end the prosecution of minors in adult courts, keep the youngest children out of the criminal justice system, stop jailing kids and fining their parents for missing school, and stop putting kids in adult prisons.
- Address the root causes of juvenile delinquency. Addressing the root causes of juvenile delinquency requires investing in communities, and Steyer would work to ensure every young person has a right to education, health care and clean air and water. To help children in poverty, Steyer would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit and fully fund the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the National School Lunch Program and other vital anti-poverty programs that help alleviate the most immediate stressors of child poverty. This also includes engaging with the education system to incentivize schools to implement positive interventions when students get into trouble, so that trained health professionals, counselors, and social workers, rather than police officers, are the first recourse.
- Reform policing by working with local law enforcement and communities. This includes identifying and combating racial bias in law enforcement, banning the use of facial recognition in policing, advocating for a Federal standard for the use of force and investing $500 million in community policing. This also includes demilitarizing law enforcement, creating a Presidential Task Force on Policing, Criminal Justice, and the Mental Health Crisis. The plan also lays out a legal roadmap for reforming policing, which includes incentivizing states to repeal “Stand Your Ground” laws, fully funding the Violence Against Women Act, and creating a higher standard of accountability for white collar crime.
- Ensure the Department of Justice upholds equal treatment for all people. This means appointing strong, justice-oriented leaders at the DOJ, funding, modernizing and revitalizing crucial DOJ Federal Grant Programs and repealing Trump era policies that have undermined the DOJ’s civil rights enforcement efforts by threatening LGBT rights, harming efforts to enforce civil rights abuses by local police departments, repealing directives that allowed prosecutors to seek lower sentences for certain drug crimes, and repealing leniency given to states for marijuana laws. Steyer will reverse these orders.
- Rebalance the disparity between defendants and prosecutors. This includes reforming incentives for federal prosecutors by directing the Attorney General to hire and empower dedicated US Attorneys who fight for justice and directing the department to pursue criminal justice and public safety goals in tandem. This also means investing $100 million in public defender officers, eliminating court fees and reducing fees, and expanding and funding specialized courts.
- End the cash bail system nationwide. Having fought alongside advocates to end cash bail in his home state of California, Steyer would support the end of cash bail in all 50 states and direct additional federal funding to states that eliminate cash bail and establish non-discriminatory alternatives. This also includes directing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to regulate the commercial bail bond industry.
- End the war on drugs. This means ending mandatory minimums and expanding judicial discretion for non-violent drug offenders, prioritizing diverting individuals with substance abuse disorders to treatment and rehabilitation programs, drug courts and probation, and legalizing marijuana use while expunging past records. This also includes supporting sealing records for rehabilitated nonviolent drug criminals, decriminalizing opioid possession and investing $75 billion to addressing the opioid crisis.
- Fight for fairer sentencing policies. This means eliminating mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes, revitalizing and reforming the Sentencing Commission, funding and providing oversight of the First Step Act, designing fairer risk assessment standards, partially repealing the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, and eliminating the death penalty. From the perspective of immigration reform, this means closing private detention facilities and ending ICE detainers, and ending programs that deputize local law enforcement to enforce immigration law.
- Improve prison conditions and break the vice-grip of the prison industrial complex. Steyer’s administration would achieve this by closing Federal private prisons and detention centers, enforcing fair and just work conditions for prison labor for private contractors, and ending predatory pricing for basic communication services and commissary items. This also means providing more opportunities for connection and rehabilitation in prison, such as finding ways to help families to stay connected with loved ones in prison by considering the location of a prisoner’s family when determining placement and incentivizing states to implement policies that make family visits easier to schedule and navigate. This also includes encouraging innovative rehabilitation programs and ensuring all incarcerated individuals have a right to health care. The Steyer administration will also place evidence-based limits on isolation and solitary confinement, end the construction of supermax facilities, protect the civil rights of prisoners with disabilities, and ensure non-discrimination and safety for LGBTQ individuals.
- Encourage rehabilitation in prison. This includes fostering educational advancement for incarcerated individuals, by ending fees for books and reading manuals, reinstating Pell Grants for incarcerated students with $10 million in dedicated annual funding, and investing in workforce training and certificate programs. The Steyer administration would also take steps to address specific needs women face in detention, such as reuniting women who have committed nonviolent crimes with their children, supporting the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, and addressing prevalent sexual abuse and trauma in prison.
• Release more rehabilitated people. A Steyer administration would expand clemency for certain prisoners who have undergone a comprehensive review process, implement