Policy principles: U.S. criminal justice policy should…

1.      End racial disparity in the criminal justice system.

“Tough on crime” policies have disproportionately affected communities of color through disparate sentencing laws and discriminatory law enforcement policies. Congress must establish equity in sentences for all drug crimes and ensure that law enforcement policies do not target communities of color.

2.      Support a restorative framework for the criminal justice system.

Overall the U.S. criminal justice system must shift from an overly punitive justice system to one that is more restorative. This framework should be applied to all judicial stages and beyond: introduce restorative justice as an alternative to the punitive “zero-tolerance policy” in schools, end the use of mandatory minimum sentences, and implement alternatives such as restorative justice programs and parole as alternatives to incarceration.

3.      End militarized policing.

As part of the “war on drugs” some policing tactics have become militarized. This alarming situation has been facilitated by the increasingly common practice of transferring military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. Instead of militarized policing, law enforcement should adopt community policing that partners with community members on how to best promote public safety.

4.      Ensure prison conditions are humane.

People in U.S. prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers are particularly vulnerable to violence and abuse. Ways that Congress can address this include eliminating the use of solitary confinement in these facilities, strengthening policies such as the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and ensuring prisoners and detainees’ needs are met with adequate food, health care, and the opportunity to communicate with loved ones.

5.      Reverse the trend of for-profit prisons.

The for-profit private prison industry creates incentives for mass incarceration through “occupancy requirements” in contracts that require prisons to be 80-100 percent full, regardless of crime levels. Occupancy requirements should be banned. Prison companies also maximize profit by minimizing costs, often resulting in dangerously low staffing and poor health care and living conditions for prisoners.

6.      Support the integration of returning residents into society.

Congress must eliminate barriers that prevent returning citizens from accessing housing, health care, education, employment, and voting rights, and continue funding programs that support returning citizens through the Second Chance Reauthorization Act.

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