For the last four decades, the USA has relentlessly expanded the size of our criminal justice system, needlessly throwing away too many lives and wasting trillions of taxpayer dollars. This criminal justice system is unproductive, wasteful, and dominated by racial disparities. Bad policies are made, and bad policies can be changed. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) campaign is called Smart Justice Fair Justice at it is already implementing solutions.
Some of the proposals include the following:
- End the war on drugs: Over the last 40 years, we've spent trillions of dollars enforcing senseless drug laws. Drug use has not declined, while millions of people – disproportionately poor people and people of color – have been swept into a net of correctional control that is difficult to escape and derails lives. Many have been arrested just for having a small amount of drugs. Better solutions exist.
- Make the sentence fit the crime: The hallmark of a legitimate justice system is fairness. And yet, today in America, hundreds of thousands of people are serving decades-long prison sentences that are far out of proportion to their crimes. The culprit? Extreme sentencing laws and mandatory minimum laws that strip judges of their ability to make the sentence actually fit the crime. It's time to change these laws.
- Incentivize smart practices: Some people and corporations – such as private companies that get larger payments from the state the longer they hold someone – have a vested interest in the status quo and are working to thwart smart reforms that could reduce incarceration. We need to incentivize smart and fair practices like keeping people in the community when they don't pose a threat.
- Eliminate unnecessary incarceration: Hundreds of thousands of people are locked up not based on any dangerous behavior, but because they could not pay off a fine or were convicted of a nonviolent drug or property crime. Some behind bars are so frail because of old age or illness that they can barely walk. We need to rethink the costly practice of keeping these people behind bars.
- Invest in better systems: Problems like mental illness, substance use disorders, and homelessness are more appropriately addressed outside the criminal justice system altogether. Services like drug treatment and affordable housing cost less and can have a better record of success. It's time we got serious about pulling our money out of incarceration and putting it into systems that foster healthy communities.