IT'S TIME FOR REFORM OF A BROKEN CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
IT'S TIME FOR JUSTICE TO PREVAIL ABOVE PROFIT
BAIL BOND REFORM AND OTHER MATTERS
The founding fathers envisioned a justice system based on equality for all. As a nation, we have strayed far from that original vision. The United States has around 2 million people behind bars. The "land of the free" has more people incarcerated than any other nation on Earth.
We would like to support major reforms of a broken justice system.
Read some of our ideas below.
BAIL BOND REFORM
More than 450,000 Americans sit in jail today awaiting trial and many of them cannot afford “money bail.” (ACLU) In our country, whether you stay in jail or not is wholly determined by whether you’re wealthy or not – and that’s wrong. We must come together to reform a bail system that is discriminatory, wasteful, and fails to keep our communities safe.
In America, people are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, a large number of people in jail have not even had the chance to prove their innocence. Every year, 641,000 people walk out of prison gates, but people go to jail over 11 million times each year. Many people in jails have not even been convicted. There are numerous people trapped behind bars who are too poor to make bail and must remain incarcerated until their trial. (Prison Policy).
Often this bail can be as much as $25,000 if not more. (Bail Amounts By Crime) If someone is being kept in jail because they cannot make their exorbitant bail payment, rather than for committing a crime, the law is punishing people for being poor rather than for being guilty.
The horror of the current state laws is that someone who is innocent can still have to be stuck in jail to await trial for months, because they don't have the funds to bail themselves out.
Across the country, state and local governments continue to have ineffective money bail systems that force individuals to pay amounts that are often set arbitrarily, without consideration for their ability to pay, or an accurate assessment of the person’s danger to the public, or risk of not showing up to trial. It is a system that incarcerates Americans on the basis of wealth. That is not justice.
REFORM OF THE PLEA BARGAINING SYSTEM
FOCUS ON JUSTICE RATHER THAN NUMBERS
Most criminal cases (as many as 90%) do not even go to trial. They are settled by plea bargaining. According to a 2012 New York Times article, 97% of federal cases and 94% of state cases end via plea bargain.
As many as 97% of federal drug offenders plead guilty, whether they are guilty or not. There is an immense amount of pressure from prosecutors upon defendants to accept a plea bargain in lieu of trial, and defendants are often threatened with severe sentencing if they don't agree, sometimes even life without parole.
In the rare cases in which defendants insist upon going to trial, prosecutors often make good on their threats. Federal drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain. This is according to statistics released in a Human Rights Watch Report.
"Prosecutors give drug defendants a so-called choice – in the most egregious cases," says Jamie Fellner, senior advisor to the US Program at Human Rights, "the choice can be to plead guilty to 10 years, or risk life without parole by going to trial. Prosecutors make offers few drug defendants can refuse. This is coercion pure and simple.”
ENDING MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING STATUTES
In the 1980s, Congress enacted mandatory minimum sentencing statutes. Lawmakers intended 10-year minimum sentences for drug kingpins and five years for mid-level traffickers. But because the laws key the sentence to the weight and type of drug, and not the specific role of the offender, prosecutors can levy the same charges with the same mandatory sentence against a courier who delivers a package of drugs and the head of a drug organization to whom the drugs are delivered. Nearly half – 48 percent – of federal drug defendants have low-level functions such as street-level dealer or courier, and half to three-quarters of them are convicted of offenses carrying mandatory minimum sentences (Human Rights Watch).
Prosecutors pressure defendants to plead guilty by threatening increased mandatory sentencing enhancements and penalties that are applicable if the defendant has one or more prior drug convictions or possessed a gun at the time of the offense. If the prosecutors carry out their threats, they add decades to the defendant’s time behind bars, resulting in punishments that, as one federal judge, John Gleeson of New York’s Eastern District, said, are “so excessively severe they take your breath away.”
Under Title 21, Section 841(b)(1), for example, prosecutors have complete discretion in deciding whether to mention prior felony convictions in connection with a drug offender's sentencing, which can have a jaw-dropping impact on the penalty he receives: If a prosecutor decides to notify the court of one prior conviction, the defendant’s sentence will be doubled. If the prosecutor decides to notify the court of two prior convictions for a defendant facing a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence on the current offense, the sentence increases to life.
Particularly disturbing is the case of Sandra Avery, a small-time drug dealer who possessed 50 grams of crack cocaine with the intent to deliver. When she rejected a plea of 10 years for the right to take her case to trial, the prosecutor triggered a sentencing enhancement based on her prior convictions for simple drug possession, and she was sentenced to life without parole.
“Going to trial is a right, not a crime,” Fellner said. “But defendants are punished with longer sentences for exercising that right.”
(Source: Human Rights Watch)
ENDING MASS INCARCERATION
ENDING THE INEFFECTIVE WAR ON DRUGS
PUNISHING SERIOUS CRIMINALS RATHER THAN THE SICK AND THE POOR
We agree that there are some people who should definitely be locked behind bars for the safety of the general population. However, the war on drugs has not resulted in less drug use or more safety. It has simply resulted in more people behind bars. Drug use should be viewed the same as alcoholism, a disease rather than a crime. The war on drugs has been a complete failure. It has ruined lives, communities, and has disproportionately targeted people of color.
We must seek alternatives to criminalizing those who simply need help.
Incarceration is also very expensive to the American tax payer.
According to the Vera Institute of Justice, incarceration costs an average of more than $31,000 per inmate, per year, nationwide. In some states, it's as much as $60,000. Taxpayers foot the bill for feeding, housing and securing people in state and federal penitentiaries. This cost includes people who committed low level crimes such as drug abuse. (Marketplace)
It's time to give the American tax payer a break and focus on putting people in jail for committing a serious crime, rather than criminalizing the poor and the mentally ill.
Under this law, prosecutors have complete discretion in deciding whether to mention prior felony convictions in connection with a drug offender's sentencing, which can have a jaw-dropping impact on the penalty he receives: If a prosecutor decides to notify the court of one prior conviction, the defendant’s sentence will be doubled. If the prosecutor decides to notify the court of two prior convictions for a defendant facing a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence on the current offense, the sentence increases to life.
Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017 (Prison Policy Initiative, 3-14-17)
The American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people.
Innocence Is Irrelevant (The Atlantic September 2017)
This is the age of the plea bargain—and millions of Americans are suffering the consequences.
Why Innocent People Plead Guilty (New York Book Reviews, November 20, 2014)
The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes.
Almost Half a Million People Are in Jail Awaiting Trial (The Nation, 12-5-16)
How the practice of bail is making us less safe.
Our Bail System Is Leaving Innocent People To Die In Jail Because They’re Poor (Huffington Post, 7-14-16)
When freedom is only available to those who can afford it, many end up paying with their lives.
Some crimes violate both state and federal law, enabling both governments to bring criminal charges.
How U.S. Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty
US: Forced Guilty Pleas in Drug Cases (Human Rights Watch, 12-5-13)
Threat of Draconian Sentences Means Few Willing to Risk Trial
Why 97% of Federal Drug Offenders Plead Guilty (Forbes, 12-8-13)
The percentage of criminal cases ending in plea bargains has increased during the last few decades