Aug 2, 2016    |    News Uncategorized

Criminal Justice Reform Has Made it into Both Party Platforms. That’s a Big Deal.

Originally appeared in: Brennan Center
By: Natasha Camhi

Usually party platforms, in all of their densely-written glory, do not make the short list of buzz topics on the election, and their release is not greeted with much fanfare. But this year, in a rollicking and unpredictable campaign season, the politics around the platform are very different. This is particularly true when it comes to criminal justice reform – one of the few areas with bipartisan support.

For decades both parties drove a strong “tough on crime” stance, encouraging more incarceration. In 1968, Richard Nixon’s platform identified “lawlessness” as one of the greatest threats to the country, and many election cycles later George H. W. Bush’s platform stripped rights from those convicted of drug crimes while accusing criminals and their lawyers of dictating federal policy. Likewise, the Democrats’ 1996 platform under Bill Clinton praised mandatory “three-strikes-you’re-out” laws and promised states $8 billion in new funding for prison infrastructure. At the turn of the century, the Democratic Party continued to push “tougher punishments” as a solution for our broken justice system.

But this year, in a notable reversal of past policies, both the Republican and Democratic platforms include mentions of criminal justice reform. It is now widely accepted knowledge that America’s prison population is unsustainable and embarrassingly high, at nearly 2.3 million people. This simple statistic, in combination with increased public awareness of the system’s racial inequalities, has created a national climate of tension and mistrust that the presidential candidates cannot ignore. Their platforms reflect this reality.

In April, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution in which they demonstrated support for “effective criminal justice reforms for nonviolent offenders at the state and federal level that protect our communities, respect crime victims, restore families” and “safely reduce prison populations.” This language was unprecedented, and gave advocates across the country a reason to believe the political establishment was starting to get on board with reform.

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