Criminal Justice Reform
The first obligation of our government is to protect society. As a former prosecutor, I held criminals accountable, sought justice for crime victims, and protected our community. I also understand the need to reform our approach to criminal justice in order to better protect our communities. Mass incarceration is costly and ineffective. We also know the criminal justice system has disproportionately affected young people of color, specifically young men of color. One in three black men born today and one in six latino men born today will likely end up in prison. We must reimagine a criminal justice system that understands the reality of racial inequity and makes communities safer by promoting rehabilitation. People who are sent to prison must become prepared for life after incarceration, which will reduce the rate of re-offences. Justice is a concept that requires us to look beyond a case file and to pursue equality, fairness, and accountability.
Ending Mass Incarceration and a Commitment to Prison Reform
Our country’s over-reliance on prison, particularly for nonviolent offenders, has left us with an overburdened and underperforming correctional system. No country in the world has a higher percentage of its citizens in prison than the United States. Many are incarcerated for low-level, nonviolent offenses. Sensible prison reform starts with the broad use of alternatives to incarceration. This includes increasing the use of home detention, incorporating community service opportunities, re-energizing restorative justice programs and providing funding to increase capacity and effectiveness of monitoring individuals through community correctional supervision. Mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, developed in the 1980’s, continue today, forcing low-level and first-time offenders to serve lengthy mandatory prison terms. This practice is a chief contributor to prison overpopulation. It has taken discretion away from talented, knowledgeable judges who fashioned sentences to meet the needs of a particular situation and has deprived the modern prosecutor of the ability to recognize the humanity behind every case and work to serve justice. We must repeal mandatory minimum sentences and instead utilize sentence ranges. It is time to fully transition funding from reactive drug abuse enforcement and prosecution to more productive strategies involving prevention, education, treatment and rehabilitation.
We must eliminate solitary confinement of juveniles in detention. The practice is inhumane and ineffective. Representative Cardeñas’ efforts in the House to pass legislation banning juvenile solitary confinement are steps in the right direction. I look forward to working with Rep.Cardeñas to ensure that the federal government is not harming our children, but protecting them. I am proud to note that a similar effort is underway right here at home, in King County. I will push for proper implementation and enforcement of that ordinance and fight for national change to guarantee the rights of our children.
Reintegration: From Prison to Community
An overburdened criminal justice system cannot be repaired without greater attention toward the promotion of successful reentry programs for inmates that have served their time and are soon to be released. Society continues to punish offenders long after their release by depriving individuals of social services, housing, access to healthcare, educational opportunities, and the right to vote. Shifting funding from costly incarceration to prevention strategies, mentoring programs, job training and programs promoting alternatives to incarceration is critical to have a meaningful impact on recidivism rates as well as homelessness. The Democracy Restoration Act seeks to restore voting rights in federal elections to Americans who have been released from prison but are still denied the right to vote. About 5 million Americans are unable to vote because of a previous felony conviction. This contradicts efforts toward reentry and constricts an individual’s ability to become a fully reintegrated member of society.
As the son of a police officer and as a former prosecutor, I understand the incredibly important and challenging job taken on by law enforcement officers every single day. They serve to protect the community and deserve our support and our respect. In Congress, we must address the crisis of confidence that is evident between police and the communities they are pledged to protect.
Federal legislators are key players in improving police and community relations. I support the development of a national system of tracking use-of-force incidents including officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. I also support criminal justice research and initiatives that encourage the use of evidence based, best practices in law enforcement including officer trainings in de-escalation, crisis intervention and community policing. Training should be provided to all federal, state, county, municipal, tribal, and campus police officers. Funding must be used to identify police and community relations best practices so these programs can be shared, adapted and implemented across the country. This includes guidelines and opportunities for new and innovative evidence-based community policing initiatives and strategies made available through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.