2016 Presidential Candidates on Prison Reform and Mass Incarceration

For our final post in our three-part series focused on the 2016 presidential election, we take a look at the candidates’ views on mass incarceration and prison reform. We touched on this briefly in the previous post centered on the Black Lives Matter movement, but today we’ll dive a little deeper into specific initiatives regarding prison reform.

It wasn’t long ago that President Bill Clinton led both democrats and republicans in advocating for “tough on crime” policies. Today, even those who led the charge for mandatory minimums and three strikes provisions have opened their eyes to the toll those policies have taken on our communities, and many candidates, especially democrats, have been pressured to reverse the damage they have done.

Both Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton are addressing the need for prison reform head-on. They recognize that it’s a fact, not an opinion, that more people behind bars will not make the United States safer, healthier, or economically sound. Both support Ban the Box legislation, the international campaign to encourage employers to not ask applicants about their criminal history. And both candidates have spoken against the privatization of prisons. For at least one candidate, we know that he’s not just paying lip service; in September 2015, Sanders introduced a bill that banned government contracts with private prison corporations.

As for the Republican Party, prison reform is not a priority and its candidates rarely speak on this topic. Despite the silence, I think it’s safe to say that across the board, the Republican candidates will not call for a ban on private prison. One of Marco Rubio’s top contributors is the GEO Group, the second largest for-profit prison corporation in this country. Ted Cruz also has ties to the for-profit prison industry. And Governor Kasich is responsible for Ohio being the first state to sell a state run prison to a private corporation.

Prison reform affects society well beyond correctional facilities. Unemployment rates, educational standards, health and safety are just a few examples. If the candidates are serious about increasing employment rates and educational standards, it’s time for them to realize that they can’t achieve these higher standards without reforming the criminal justice and prison system. Illinois primaries are tomorrow. The time is now to let the candidates know your position! November might be too late.

[table]
Candidate, Mandatory Minimums,Private Prisons,Ban the Box
Hillary Clinton,“Keeping them behind bars does little to reduce crime. But it does a lot to tear apart families and communities.”,Plans to end private prisons,Supports Ban the Box legislation
Bernie Sanders,“We need to turn back from the failed ‘War on Drugs’ and eliminate mandatory minimums…” ,Introduced “Justice is Not for Sale Act” to ban private prisons,Co-wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to enforce Ban the Box
Ted Cruz,“The current draconian mandatory minimum sentences sometimes result in sentencing outcomes that neither fit the crime nor the perpetrator’s unique circumstances.”,Has strong ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which promotes contracts between private prisons and the government,–
John Kasich,Supports fewer mandatory minimum sentences,Oversaw the sale of Lake Erie Correctional Institution to Corrections Corporation of America,Signed Ban the Box legislation for Ohio,
Marco Rubio,“I personally believe that… any reductions in sentences for drug crimes should be made with great care.”,GEO Group–the second largest for-profit prison operator in the country–is one of the top contributors to Rubio’s campaign,–
Donald Trump,–,–,–
[/table]

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