Warren Touts Accountability & Outreach for Criminal-Justice Reform

(CN) – U.S. Senator and 2020 presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren introduced a new policy plan Tuesday to reduce the country’s mass-incarceration rates, which are the highest in the world.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 10, 2019, in Des Moines. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Notable in the holistic proposal are Warren’s plans to make communities safer by helping the homeless, increasing mental health services, and train and support police officers while holding them accountable for rights violations. 

“Simply put, we have criminalized too many things. We send too many people to jail,” Warren wrote in a post on Medium introducing the proposal. “We keep them there for too long. We do little to rehabilitate them.”

The post includes staggering numbers, such as that U.S. prisons and jails are home to over 2 million people — mostly black and Latino — making up over 20% of the world’s prison population. Unable to afford bail while awaiting their day in court, meanwhile, 60% of people in jail have not been convicted of a crime. Warren also notes that black and Latino students are arrested at school at higher rates than their white counterparts, while 1 in 10 black children in this country has an incarcerated parent.

Her plan calls for police to be trained in de-escalation tactics and for safeguards to ensure that police who violate people’s rights are held accountable. Current qualified-immunity protections, which Warren would rein in, prevent people from suing government officers for actions undertaken in the course of duty if there’s no specific precedent for the issue. 

Warren says the government also needs to do a better job supporting the mental and emotional health of its law-enforcement officers and to create a comprehensive database of police shootings and ethics issues.

Noting the links between socioeconomic status and sentencing, Warren also wants better funding for public defenders and more diversity in the judiciary.

“We abolished debtors prisons nearly 200 years ago, but we’re still criminalizing poverty in this country — low-income individuals are more likely to find themselves entangled in the system and less likely to find their way out,” Warren wrote. 

Calling out the leniency that the criminal-justice system shows to white-collar criminals and corporations, Warren also made several proposals to increase services for the mentally ill and substance abusers, saying such populations should not be incarcerated because of their disease.

“Police officers have become America’s de facto first mental health providers,” Warren wrote. 

Warren wants as well to gut the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a 1994 crime bill that has been tied to the mass-incarceration crisis.

“That punitive ‘tough on crime’ approach was wrong, it was a mistake, and it needs to be repealed,” Warren wrote. To address what she calls “the legacy of the war on drugs,” Warren also says she would erase past drug convictions and legalize weed. 

Warren has already said she wants to end to the private prison system, an opinion she shares with competitor Joe Biden. Tuesday Warren announced plans to better protect vulnerable prison populations like women and transgender people, provide addiction services, and get rid of solitary confinement. 

In addition to access to mental health care, she says good schools and affordable housing should be universal and will keep everyone safe.

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