Criminal justice must work for all of society

Our criminal justice system is afflicted by multiple problems, all of which cause social damage and undermine public faith in our legal institutions. Although these problems have different causes, they all share one in particular: that our focus on justice is about seeking results that are ultimately punitive, as opposed to rehabilitative. When someone breaks the law our first instinct is to see them suffer consequences, to experience hardship so that they are afraid to break society’s laws again, deterring others from criminal behavior.

That deterrent factor is a key component of our justice system, but we have come to give it a disproportionate value in criminal cases, often at the expense of what our justice system is intended for: the rehabilitation of those who violate our laws into contributing members of society. As a result, we have lost our way.

Our approach to criminal justice is that of society-first mindset, the notion that a justice system should concentrate on the best needs of society and how to make it whole in the face of criminal action, or any victims of that action, rather than focusing exclusively on how to punish those who break our laws.

To accomplish this, we propose the following measures:

Ending for-profit legal schemes

Ending for-profit legal schemes

Today, much of our criminal justice system is geared to make money. Fines and court fees bring in millions of dollars to government agencies and private services. The “war on drugs” brings in billions of dollars to special interests. The widespread abuse of asset forfeiture - which often comes without any proof of criminal wrongdoing - brings in billions more. Private prisons and corrections institutions add billions more on top. As a result, criminal justice reform is opposed because powerful people make too much money by locking Americans in cages.

This isn't just “a problem,” this is a moral atrocity. A country that calls itself “the land of the free” should never tolerate this injustice upon our society, and the Alliance Party will not stand for it. We seek to dismantle the causes of this injustice piece by piece, and we would do so over several areas:

Fines, punitive fees and asset seizures should be deterrents - not sources of profit. If someone commits a petty crime, fines, community service and counseling fees may certainly be appropriate consequences. The same is true of asset forfeitures. If a criminal made millions of ill-gotten dollars, seizing and auctioning off their assets are equally appropriate. But that money shouldn't go to government slush funds. Crimes are committed against society, thus any punitive money paid in fines or by defendants in criminal cases should go instead to society.

This goal would be accomplished by a proposed constitutional addition, which would see all fines, fees and proceeds from asset forfeitures go into a fund that's spent based on the will of the people by democratic vote. We are not personal ATM machines for bureaucratic fiefdoms, and if someone pays for breaking the law, the American people should be the beneficiary of that money, removing the conflict of interests to police for profit.

Additionally, this amendment would also ensure that the burden of proof in fines or asset seizures rests on the government, not the defendant, and that assets may only be seized after a conviction in court. The Alliance Party believes innocent until proven guilty means just that, and we will vehemently oppose any practice seeking to undermine that standard.

Ban use of private prisons. A contributing factor to our overcrowded prison population and the injustices that surround it is the private prison industry. This industry builds facilities that incarcerate inmates as a private business under paid contracts with the government to have their employees serve as jailers. We see this growing occurrence justified under the logic that a private company has the flexibility to offer a service more effectively than the government, but the reality is far more sinister.

Thanks to the degree of financial influence special interests currently have over our government, they are able to “convince” our legislators to pass laws that not only expand the use of private prisons, but also mandate a certain capacity through “Lockup Quotas.” That means if there aren’t enough convicts to fill beds, the state must find people to incarcerate or pay additional fees. This conflict of interest often ends horribly.

Take for example a Pennsylvania judge by the name of Mark Ciavarella who presided over thousands of juvenile cases. He engaged in a “kids for cash” scheme, profiting millions by sentencing juvenile defendants to years in private prisons (regardless of their actual guilt) with sentences far longer than they would have received had they been convicted as adults. And as the prison owners, Robert Powell and Robert Mericle, received millions of taxpayer dollars by locking up railroaded children, they were all too happy to give the corrupt judge a hefty kickback. Although Ciavarella was discovered and sentenced to federal prison in 2011, the horrors experienced by the innocent kids thrown into abusive private prisons (which often includes rampant sexual assault) caused immeasurable mental suffering, leading some of his victims to commit suicide.

In many juvenile facilities, the sexual assault rate is as high as 30%, so the examples of private prison horror stories are by no means limited to Ciavarella’s monstrosities. Today, we’re deploying facilities nationwide where states are incentivized to incarcerate people, including women and children, and in the facilities that house the most vulnerable among us, as many as 1 in 3 are raped as a routine occurrence.

Combined with the financial conflict of interest inherent to other areas of corrections, efforts to make our laws less draconian are fought tooth and nail and painted as “soft on crime” and “risking the safety of our children.” But bringing common sense and humanity to our corrections is not a measure of weakness, it is a measure of strength, as society is measured ultimately by how it treats its lowest members.

Society should have an incentive to concentrate on the active rehabilitation of those who break our laws, not sending them into a pit where we write them off and subject them to abusive conditions, and locking people in cages is no business model that should enjoy support in a free nation. Criminal justice is a function of society that must be provided by society – meaning as a public function that is subject to the watchful eye of the Government Accountability Agency.

Banning forced labor and charging for incarceration

Alongside private prisons, our justice system also sees prison labor being used as a surrogate for American workers. They make clothing, food and other products for private companies who have paid for the “right” to hire out inmates, paying them pennies on the dollar if at all. Should they refuse to work, the inmate is subjected to punitive measures, such as removal of visitation privileges or placement in solitary confinement.

This practice, simply stated, is slavery by another name. It's dishonorable. It's disgraceful. And the Alliance Party intends to cease it as soon as we are able. While we plan on encouraging and incentivizing inmates to voluntarily work on programs of public benefit that also teach new skills they can take back to the workforce, such as building homes for impoverished Americans, contracting inmate labor for private benefit should be outright prohibited.

We also stand for banning the practice of charging inmates for their incarceration. While forcing lawbreakers to pay for their crimes in terms of fines is often appropriate, billing them for their incarceration leaves inmates deeply indebted upon release from prison, which makes it extremely difficult to set themselves on the right path towards rejoining society. As with private prisons, corrections is a function of society for the benefit of society - not a means of profit.

Refocusing criminal law towards true crimes

Refocusing criminal law towards true crimes

Of the thousands of criminal laws on the books today, many of them have no business being there. That smoking a joint can earn you a prison sentence in a society where alcohol and tobacco are widely available is ludicrous. It defies reason that you could find yourself arrested – put in handcuffs, taken to a police station, fingerprinted, charged with a crime, and often sent to county jail where you are strip searched and held for days – for urinating behind a bush, possessing alcohol if under the age of 21, driving on a recently expired license or committing a school prank. We leave the reservation altogether once we start charging teenage couples with felonies and sex crimes simply for texting intimate photos to each other.

Each of these occurrences forsakes the notion of a free society, and that’s never something we should accept as the cost of doing business. Unless the behavior is dangerous, destructive, deceptive or objectively harmful to the degree that it warrants people with guns and badges to stop them with means up to and including lethal force, then criminal law and the enforcement thereof is not appropriate.

It also bears mention of the immense burden these laws place on police, who are too often used as surrogate parents, business negotiators, marriage counselors and drug educators - inappropriate jobs for an agency that's social function is to enforce the law and collect evidence for criminal prosecutions. After the 2016 Dallas shootings, police Chief David Brown made a heartfelt plea against how society is asking too much of police. He said:

“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it....Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

And he's right. Policing was never meant to solve all these problems, and social engineering by way of armed law enforcement is never a good idea in a free society. We shouldn't be willing to support the criminalization of a behavior we're not willing to use lethal force to stop.

Worst of all, this strain on law enforcement not only creates greater social division, it reduces their ability to go after real crimes.

Today, only 64% of murders get solved. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 6 women will be raped in their lifetime, and nearly 1 in 2 women will be sexually assaulted. These are our mothers, wives, daughters, neighbors and friends - and today the odds they will be sexually violated against their will at some point are higher than losing a game of Russian roulette. Yet rape kit backlogs go back years and fewer than 10 out of every 1,000 rapists will be convicted of crimes? And police resources are devoted to busting pot smokers, unlicensed tobacco sales and teenage sexting? We find it very difficult to call this the pinnacle of wisdom.

America deserves a wiser approach to criminal justice. Our mindset in reaching it is simple: unless the action presents a clear and present risk to social safety and/or social harmony, then that action has no business being criminalized. We live in a free society, after all, and using the mechanisms of the criminal justice system to prohibit actions we anecdotally find uncomfortable is morally reprehensible.

Yet if the action does present a clear and present risk to social safety and harmony, then those actions should be prioritized by law enforcement and dealt with accordingly. Excessive criminalization of harmless behaviors brands far too many people as “criminal,” and makes it harder to differentiate between actual criminals and those who happened to break a law that shouldn’t have existed in the first place. That differentiation needs to be clear and our laws should facilitate that end as a core function.

Standing down the “war on drugs”

Standing down the “war on drugs”

As a failure on scales rivaled by few others in our history, the “war on drugs” has wasted more than a trillion dollars, as well as the lives and freedoms of countless people. This has become abundantly clear as time has gone on, yet our leaders continue to offer little more than sanctimony about the “dangers of drugs” and the need to keep criminalizing drug use in the face of these failures.

The Alliance Party is not interested in wasting money and lives on policies that are so clearly misguided. It is also not interested in lying to the public to save face about the damage these policies have caused, or to retain the budgets of public services dedicated to narcotics prohibition. Instead, we'd propose a new legal framework regarding narcotics, consisting of the following measures:

The Total Legalization of Marijuana. Of all of the unjust recipients of negative propaganda from our government, marijuana is perhaps the largest. For nearly a century, the public has been lied to about its supposed dangers, demonized as no safer than methamphetamine or heroin, even though the fact that it is safer than both alcohol and tobacco is clear. Indeed, marijuana has never directly caused the death of anyone as a result of chemical toxicity, yet both alcohol and tobacco kill tens of thousands of people a year and cost our society billions. In the medicinal sense, marijuana can be used to treat serious ailments, yet it’s banned in favor of prescription medications that kill tens of thousands of people per year. (The FDA recently approved the ability of doctors to prescribe use of the highly addictive Oxycontin painkiller to children as young as 11 years old.)

This situation exists because marijuana was an effective tool for racial suppression in the early 1900s, which became useful for other forms of social control during the 1970s. That torch is now carried by the pharmaceutical, alcoholic beverage and law enforcement lobby, which make just too much money to allow legal marijuana to become a reality. In support of this claim, consider both conservative and liberal sources that come to the same conclusions.

We intend to remove marijuana from its classification as a controlled narcotic and legalize and regulate its sale just like alcohol and tobacco are sold today. Even if you don’t enjoy the substance yourself, policing it has proven impossible and has cost us greatly, and no more of our tax dollars should be devoted to maintaining this deception upon society.

Treating hard drug use/addiction as a public health issue. Unlike marijuana, hard drugs are an actual threat to public health and government does have a stronger mandate to prohibit their sale and availability to the public. Law enforcement would have more resources to do this if marijuana were legalized, but more resources still won’t solve the fatally flawed approach we’re taking to hard drug abuse today.

This is because we’re viewing drug use through the lens of criminality as opposed to public health. Accordingly, our platform maintains a drug policy of criminalizing the sales of hard drugs, but it would not criminalize individual possession and use. Instead, it would treat individual drug use as if it were self-destructive behavior in the same vein as a suicide attempt and it would employ public health systems as a remedy. Here’s an example of how this could work:

If a police officer finds hard drugs on someone during an investigation, instead of being arrested and charged with a crime, they’d be placed in protective custody and would be brought to court on a potential consideration of “addiction,” just as a court could determine if someone was a suicide risk. The individual would undergo a probationary period in which they’d have to pass drug tests, and if they failed or relapsed, the court could mandate that the individual go to inpatient rehab for a time period, instead of prison, where they could get the treatment they need.

Upon release, their stay in rehab would be a medical record and thus would remain secret to anyone except doctors and the court system – meaning it would never appear on an employment background check unless the job required a security clearance with a review of medical records. Functionally, this avoids branding the individual with a criminal conviction that hinders their availability to find employment and thus regress back to drugs.

Subsidize police officer salaries with better training

Subsidize police officer salaries with better training

Today, police officers are held insufficiently accountable to the laws they enforce. Yet at the same time, police officers are tasked with things they're not equipped or qualified to deal with and there are instances where they face extremely difficult tasks that don't have easy solutions. Expecting officers to perform admirably under these conditions with lackluster salaries and academy training of between 21 weeks to 6 months is simply unrealistic, and it’s been a contributing factor to the law enforcement/social divide we see presently.

For this reason, the Alliance Party would seek to subsidize police salaries to a minimum of $75,000 per year to ensure the best applicants are attracted. Under our model, any state that receives federal law enforcement funds must require at least 1 year of academy training before a sworn officer could be deployed on the street with a firearm, and would also be subject to the additional standards proposed by the Government Accountability Agency.

Removal of mandatory-minimum sentencing laws

Mandatory-minimum laws mandate a certain sentence upon conviction in court and remove a judge’s discretion in sentencing. These laws, passed by “tough on crime” politicians to win points with voters, become problematic because they remove a judge’s ability to weigh circumstances with nuance.

This is not in the best interests of public justice. And it’s been a contributing factor to why our prison population is as high as it is. The Alliance Party would seek to invalidate most mandatory minimum sentencing laws nationwide through federal legislation or contingent law enforcement funding for states – if a prison sentence is necessary, a judge is the appropriate actor to determine its nature.

Increase privacy of criminal records

If someone made mistake to the degree that they have a criminal conviction for it, once they’ve paid their debt to society, that debt should get marked as paid and it should not adversely affect them further. Under our model, all criminal records would be sealed from outside review to anyone but law enforcement or someone inquiring about their own record. This means that employers would be prohibited from inquiring about criminal records of employees or acting on information they heard externally from outside sources unless the job required a security clearance or concerned sensitive tasks such as law enforcement or working with children.

Once an offender has paid what society has asked of them for their mistakes, they should and must be encouraged back into the social fold with all rights afforded to them. This is essential to preventing them from re-offending and is the primary mechanism we have to induce them away from living a life of crime.

To proactively address arguments that this position puts society at risk by preventing people from knowing about the past of dangerous individuals, that misses the point. If someone justifiably presents that risk, then they shouldn’t be let out of prison or be considered rehabilitated in the first place. Otherwise, then they should rejoin society. It is one or the other, and it’s a fact-driven assessment, not one based on rhetoric that needlessly destroys people’s lives for political points. We need a system better than that.

Pretrial detention only when necessary

Pretrial detention only when necessary

In cases where criminal charges are warranted, does an arrest really need to occur, especially in non-violent instances? Is a court summons honestly insufficient? If the answer is truly yes, it’s then appropriate to bring someone to a police station, fingerprint them, take pictures of their face and interrogate them, but does that person really need to be housed in county jail where they face degrading treatment and possibly unsafe conditions before appearing in court?

Barring instances where someone presents a clear risk to society, what does a county jail cell accomplish that a summons in the mail doesn’t? Unless the individual arrested has committed a serious crime that involves violence or has demonstrated the likelihood to flee and/or not appear for court, then that person should be released on their own recognizance. This happens far less than it should, and that should change. Innocent until proven guilty means just that, and absent a compelling reason not to (with evidence), we should respect it accordingly.

Restorative and rehabilitative justice programs

Restorative and rehabilitative justice programs

The ideal goal of our criminal justice system is to heal the damage criminality causes to society and induce lawbreakers to refrain from unlawful behavior. And that does not always need to include prison. Even today, although many convictions result in probation and “community service” as opposed to jail time, picking up trash along the side of the road and calling a probation officer once a week doesn’t necessarily help anything over the long term. Moreover, a significant motivator of people to engage in criminal behavior from the beginning is a lack of education and means to make an honest living.

This provides us an opportunity to solve multiple problems at once.

Although we oppose the use of forced inmate labor - or inmate labor for private enterprise, we promote programs that encourage inmates to voluntarily work on projects of social benefit, such as building houses for underprivileged families or working on larger scales of community service. Just because someone made a mistake horrible enough to warrant a prison sentence doesn't mean they lack skills valuable to society. Just as importantly, it doesn't mean they lack the potential to learn them. This can afford them skills to bring back to the workforce once released, helping them remain law-abiding members of society.

There's a reason the United States has one of the highest rates of convicts re-offending in the world and countries like Norway have among the least: because they concentrate on solving the problems behind crime in a firm yet empathetic fashion.

That doesn't mean coddling murders and rapists. That doesn't mean slapping fraudsters and swindlers on the wrist. It means investing in the systems to reform people who break our laws into people who can live harmoniously within society. It means standing for the rule of law and holding those who break it accountable without giving up on them. It means actually standing for victims and ensuring they're made whole in the face of violence or criminality. And it means continually striving for a higher standard of criminal justice to balance an embrace of liberty while ensuring society's security.

That is the legal system the Alliance Party would stand for, and we believe it's the system America deserves for a brighter future.

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