Hillary Clinton Needs to Bring Specifics on Justice Reform

Hillary Clinton Needs to Bring Specifics on Justice Reform


Speeches vs. Specific Policy.  Reportedly former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will share her specific views on justice reform “in the fall.”  Members of her staff say there’s a need for more listening and “engaging people” on the issue.  It’s only four months before the first presidential primary ballot will be cast and other candidates are ahead of Hillary Clinton regarding offering specific details on their views on justice reform policy.

Read these justice platforms from the three top Democrats running for the White House and tell me what you see in terms of specifics.

Hillary Clinton
Bernie Sanders
Martin O’Malley

When it comes to justice policy, Hillary Clinton’s specifics are the thinest of the three Democrats above.  She should at least be ahead of Libertarian firebrand Rand Paul (R-KY) on justice reform — who lists five specific bills he has worked on as a Senator and would push as President — but right now she isn’t.  

Is releasing specifics on an issue that has dominated the news over the last year really that difficult?  Shouldn’t someone who has been in public life since the early 1990s and then was a U.S. Senator know what they believe on criminal justice reform by now?  That Hillary Clinton hasn’t found a way to get specific on justice reform is surprising after her first policy speech pinpointing the topic was a balls out slam dunk on justice issues.  But it was also general.  

The Clinton campaign has to know that over-indexed Democratic voters such as Black voters, specifically Black women, care about justice reform.  A poll of about 2,000 Black women by Essence released last week during CBCWeek showed that justice issues, including mandatory minimum policy, was high on the list in response to what voters care about.  Clinton senior advisor Marlon Marshall perhaps said it best during a meeting with reporters on September 19, “we don’t get questions about e-mails, they ask about justice reform…,” Marshall said when speaking on what door knocking conversations in Iowa yielded. 

Who would have guessed that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — who has no justice reform record to speak of — would beat Hillary Clinton to the punch when it came to publishing a specific platform on justice reform issues.  No one could have predicted back in April that Sanders would have a tab on his campaign website entitled “racial justice.” read here  No one could have predicted that Sanders would offer a bill on private prisons.  Much of what Sanders is now pushing is due to the pressure from Black Lives Matter.

But when ex-law and order Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley found a way to publish a detailed subject-by-subject platform on justice reform that goes on about “expanding good time credits,” and “data reporting on police encounters” and “civil asset forfeiture” it’s noteworthy that Clinton didn’t do the same before him.  

Unfortunately, the issues around justice reform have a wide reach into many aspects of American life as the U.S. continues to lead the world in the rate of incarceration.  A justice reform platform can not be encapsulated within the words “our criminal justice system is out of balance” or saying you will be “encouraging the use of smart strategies.”  One would hope each campaign is encouraging smart strategies.  But solutions come down to hard and specific policy.  If Team Clinton needs more study and conversation before deciding which policies to back they would be the only ones needing that.  Other Democrats running apparently have figured it out. 

All the issues Sanders and O’Malley mention in their justice platforms line up with actual federal legislation, some of which has been around for quite a while.  There are few generalities.  One can match five policies in O’Malley’s justice platform to five bills and efforts offered right now in Congress.  Examples:

1. “As President I will eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack + powder cocaine…” (H.R. 1255 — Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2015 / Rep. Scott)
2. “O’Malley will support legislation that eliminates mandatory minimums for low-level drug offenses…” (H.R. 2944 — SAFE Justice Act Reinvestment Act of 2015 / Reps. Sensenbrenner and Scott)
3. “As President, O’Malley will expunge or seal criminal records…” (H.R.1672 and S. 675 — The REDEEM Act / Rep. Fattah and Sens. Booker and Paul).
4. O’Malley would “ban the box” for federal contractors (Back in May, 70 members of Congress led by Rep, Barbara Lee signed a letter pushing President Obama to “ban the box” for federal contractors).
5. O’Malley also wants to “phase out federal for-profit prisons…” (Sanders wants that too. He just offered a bill to end the private profit system in jails. He offered the Justice Not for Sale Act).

O’Malley’s platform then goes on to mention specific bills such as the bipartisan Second Chance Act, signed by President Bush and sponsored by Black Caucus member Danny Davis (D-IL).  I spoke with O’Malley at the Black Caucus Gala last Saturday as he walked around and greeted people.  Will O’Malley be the nominee? Unlikely. But if he is one thing is certain: Voters will know exactly where he stands on justice reform.

Would President Hillary Clinton sign the Cardin/Conyers Racial Profiling Bill if she was President?  I would guess she would. But why not just say that? Would President Clinton support the SAFE Justice Act that now has 22 Democrats and 22 Republicans as c0-sponsors?  I don’t know.  Does Hillary Clinton support Sen. Patrick Leahy’s concepts in the Justice Safety Valve bill that would give power to judges to sentence under a mandatory minimum penalty? Don’t know.  Does Clinton support Sen. Cory Booker’s REDEEM Act?  Hopefully these answers will be revealed soon.