Law Enforcement, Race, and Criminal Justice
There is an urgent need to restore the bonds of trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they are sworn to protect, especially African-American communities. Over the past 20 years, police departments have played an indispensable role in bringing down crime rates across the nation. To preserve these gains, we must ensure respect for every citizen’s right to fair and equitable treatment under the law. The time has also come to reform our courts and prisons, so that we rely less on incarceration, which can break apart both families and communities.
Responsible Law Enforcement
Improved training and community outreach can help to prevent the kind of encounters that have escalated into violence. When police officers patrol the same community year after year, they have the opportunity to build relationships with local residents. Trust is built as police engage with members of the community in positive settings—such as schools, parks, and public forums—not just when confronting potential lawbreakers.
Additional training in communication skills and de-escalation strategies can help police officers to prevent conflict even when confronting potential lawbreakers. The office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) at the Department of Justice is an important resource for local police departments that can provide advice, best practices, and resources for new initiatives.
Evan believes that ‘stop and frisk’ policies are a form of unreasonable search and seizure, and therefore inconsistent with our Fourth Amendment rights. He also believes strongly that body cameras help to bring transparency to encounters with the police. Camera footage can help to ensure accountability for officers who behave recklessly, while verifying that responsible officers followed all appropriate procedures. Police departments must ensure that these cameras are in good working order and have a clear and enforceable policy for when the cameras must be on.
Criminal Justice Reform
Violent felons should remain in prison for as long as necessary to prevent them from causing additional harm. However, the American justice system has resorted to incarceration for a wide range of low-risk, non-violent offenders, leading us to have the highest incarceration rate in the world—four to five times higher than England, which is second. We could save tens of billions of dollars per year by making greater use of alternatives to prison as well as emphasizing rehabilitation in order to reduce the rate of recidivism.
Evan believes that responsible sentencing reform is the first step toward lower incarceration rates. First, far too many crimes have become federal offenses, particularly routine drug crimes. Even the late Justice Antonin Scalia lamented this trend. Second, judges should have greater discretion rather than having their hands tied by mandatory minimum sentences, which worsen racial and income-based sentencing disparities. Third, judges should be empowered to enroll offenders in diversion programs that emphasize community service, treatment for addiction, and other approaches to rehabilitation. Already, Texas and other states have implemented similar reforms without compromising public safety.
The size and cost of the federal prison system have grown by leaps and bounds, a trend that will only continue without reform. Since 1980, the number of federal prison inmates has grown from 20,000 to more than 200,000. The cost per prisoner rose 50 percent, from $20,000 to $30,000 per year, between 2000-2010. Prison costs now take up one quarter of the Department of Justice's budget, and the proportion is rising. If this approach prevented crime, it might be worth it. However, experience shows that the relationship between building prisons and reducing crime is unclear. For example, the state of New York lowered incarceration rates by 24% from 1994-2012 while leading the nation in progress against crime.
To maximize effectiveness, sentencing reform should be paired with new programs to reduce recidivism and set non-violent offenders on a path to reintegration. A study by the Pew Center found that more than 40 percent of state prisoners return to jail within three years. To prevent crime as well as further incarceration, prisons should expand job training and educational programs that can help released prisoners find work. Outside of prison, there are too many barriers to employment for those who have served their sentences. Low-risk offenders should not face a blanket denial for all professional licenses or certifications. People who have paid their debt to society must have a pathway back.
The biggest beneficiaries of all these changes will be families and communities. Today, about 1 in 30 children has a parent behind bars, a four-fold increase since 1985. For African-American children, the figure is closer to 1 in 10. The children of inmates often struggle in school, have higher teen pregnancy rates, earn less as adults, and are more likely to commit crimes and wind up in prison themselves. Evan McMullin believes in responsible reforms that will break the cycle of poverty and give these children the opportunities in life they deserve while preventing crime and saving taxpayer dollars.