Criminal justice reform

Note: This page is a reproduction of the Hillary for America policy proposal on criminal justice reform. 

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but almost 25 percent of the total prison population. A significant percentage of the more than 2 million Americans incarcerated today are nonviolent offenders. African American men are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than white men found guilty of the same offenses.

To successfully reform our criminal justice system, we must work to strengthen the bonds of trust between our communities and our police, end the era of mass incarceration, and ensure a successful transition of individuals from prison to home. As president, Hillary will focus on a few key areas.

Strengthen bonds of trust between communities and police

Effective policing and constitutional policing go hand in hand. We can—and must—do both by:

  • Bringing law enforcement and communities together to develop national guidelines on the use of force by police officers, making it clear when deadly force is warranted and when it isn’t and emphasizing proven methods for de-escalating situations.
  • Acknowledging that implicit bias still exists across society—even in the best police departments—and tackle it together. Hillary will commit $1 billion in her first budget to find and fund the best training programs, support new research, and make this a national policing priority.
  • Making new investments to support state-of-the-art law enforcement training programs at every level on issues like use of force, de-escalation, community policing and problem solving, alternatives to incarceration, crisis intervention, and officer safety and wellness.
  • Supporting legislation to end racial profiling by federal, state, and local law enforcement officials.
  • Strengthening the U.S. Department of Justice’s pattern or practice unit—the unit that monitors civil rights violations—by increasing the department’s resources, working to secure subpoena power, and improving data collection for pattern or practice investigations.
  • Doubling funding for the U.S. Department of Justice “Collaborative Reform” program. Across the country, there are police departments deploying creative and effective strategies that we can learn from and build on. Hillary will provide assistance and training to agencies that apply these best practices
  • Providing federal matching funds to make body cameras available to every police department in America.
  • Promoting oversight and accountability in use of controlled equipment, including by limiting the transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement from the federal government, eliminating the one-year use requirement, and requiring transparency from agencies that purchase equipment using federal funds.
  • Collecting and reporting national data to inform policing strategies and provide greater transparency and accountability when it comes to crime, officer-involved shootings, and deaths in custody.

End the era of mass incarceration

Today in America, more than one out of every 100 adults is behind bars. This mass incarceration epidemic has an explicit racial bias, as one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. A significant number of those incarcerated are held for low-level, nonviolent offenses. We must end the era of mass incarceration by:

  • Reforming mandatory minimum sentencing. Excessive federal mandatory minimum sentences keep nonviolent drug offenders in prison for too long—and have increased racial inequality in our criminal justice system. Hillary will reform this system by:
    • Cutting mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses in half.
    • Allowing current nonviolent prisoners to seek fairer sentences.
    • Eliminating the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine so that equal amounts of crack and powder cocaine carry equal sentences, and applying this change retroactively.
    • Reforming the “strike” system, so that nonviolent drug offenses no longer count as a “strike,” reducing the mandatory penalty for second- and third-strike offenses.
  • Focusing federal enforcement resources on violent crime, not simple marijuana possession. Marijuana arrests, including for simple possession, account for a large number of drug arrests. Significant racial disparities exist in marijuana enforcement—black men are significantly more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts, despite the fact that their usage rates are similar. Hillary will allow states that have enacted marijuana laws to act as laboratories of democracy and reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance.
  • Prioritizing treatment and rehabilitation—rather than incarceration—for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. More than half of prison and jail inmates suffer from a mental health problem. Up to 65 percent of the correctional population meets the medical criteria for a substance use disorder. Hillary will ensure law enforcement is properly trained for crisis intervention and referral to treatment as appropriate, direct the attorney general to urge federal prosecutors to seek treatment over incarceration for low-level, nonviolent drug crimes.
  • Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. Hillary will work to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by providing $2 billion in support to schools to reform overly punitive disciplinary policies, calling on states to reform school disturbance laws, and encouraging states to use federal education funding to implement social and emotional support interventions.
  • Ending the privatization of prisons. Hillary believes we should move away from contracting out this core responsibility of the federal government to private corporations. We must not create private industry incentives that may contribute—or have the appearance of contributing—to over-incarceration. The campaign does not accept contributions from federally registered lobbyists or PACs for private prison companies and will donate any such direct contributions to charity.

Promote successful re-entry by formerly incarcerated individuals

This year, the number of people released from state or federal prison will reach approximately 600,000. For the sake of everyone given a second chance—as well as the health and safety of the communities to which they return—the pathway to re-entry should offer a fair opportunity for success. Hillary will work to remove barriers and create pathways to employment, housing, health care, education, and civic participation, including:

  • Taking executive action to “ban the box” for federal employers and contractors, so that applicants have an opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications before being asked about their criminal records.
  • Investing $5 billion in re-entry job programs for formerly incarcerated individuals so that individuals can have a fair shot at getting back on their feet and becoming productive, contributing members of society.
  • Supporting legislation to restore voting rights to individuals who have served their sentences.