I’m not a big fan of Cory Booker, but I’ll be thrilled if, when he is inevitably elected to the Senate, he follows through on a promise to make criminal justice reform his primary focus. James Webb tried that and got nowhere and no one has tried since he left the Senate. Here’s what Booker proposes:
Some of the reforms Booker is advocating:
- Step up the national conversation on decriminalizing marijuana.
- Eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders.
- Eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine.
- Increase federal funding for drug and community courts that divert low-level drug offenders from prison.
- Work to end the use of private prisons.
- Help inmates and their families maintain functional relationships, by making phone calls financially accessible, providing domestic abuse and counseling classes and working to incarcerate inmates in facilities as close to their families as possible.
- Pass the Voter Empowerment Act of 2013 to restore federal voting rights to the formerly incarcerated.
- Help formerly incarcerated individuals reenter society and find employment.
- Increase grant funding for the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services, which is designed to assist law enforcement agencies in implementing community-based policing.
All important reforms, but only barely the beginning of what needs to be done. As I’ve been arguing for years, our criminal justice system is broken from top to bottom. I’d add a few more things to that list:
1. Legalization of all illegal drugs and a change of focus from drugs as a criminal problem to a public health problem.
2. A fully funded indigent defense system (funding should be at least equal to the resources that prosecutors have).
3. A requirement that every DA’s office have a conviction integrity unit like the one established by Craig Watkins in Dallas.
4. Elimination of all federal grants for the purchase of military equipment.
5. Elimination of prosecutorial immunity.
6. Mandatory video recording equipment on the uniforms of every police officer in America.
And even that is just the beginning of the reforms that need to be made.
“One of the biggest wastes of taxpayer dollars in our society today can be found in a criminal justice system in serious need in reform,” Booker writes in a report released Wednesday. “As mayor of Newark, I have watched as my police arrest, re-arrest, and then re-arrest again, sending the same person for another trip through a revolving door system that not only largely fails to rehabilitate, but too often makes reoffending commonplace and most definitely is not helping to make our communities safer.”
“The stakes are high,” he continued. “The issue of mass incarceration implicates the safety of our communities, billions of taxpayer dollars, and the health and cohesion of our families. Our next steps will determine whether our criminal justice system remains a vehicle for rigid punishment and waste, or becomes a springboard for rehabilitation, opportunity, and hope.”
I hope he means it.