There seems to be a consensus that criminal justice reform in America is needed. What is lacking, however, is agreement on just what those reforms should be which has led to a policy stalemate for the last several years.
Based on English common law
In the United States, our criminal justice system is based on the English common law belief that the best way to resolve conflicts in society is by a common form of justice. It introduced the concept of felonies for more serious crimes and misdemeanors for less serious infractions. It also created the idea of a trial by your peers for more serious crimes and by a judge or magistrate for the less serious ones. The American system is based on the concept of rehabilitation combined with punishment.
Prisons cost $80 billion a year
Over the past few years, the movement for criminal justice reform has gained traction. While crime rates have declined over the last 20 years, the number of people in prison and the cost to house them has tripled since 1980.
That means each U.S. resident is paying about $260 per year on corrections, up from $77 per person in 1980, thanks to the country's annual $80 billion price tag for incarceration, according to a new report from The Hamilton Project, which is part of Washington, D.C., think tank The Brookings Institution. — CBS News
U.S. has highest incarceration rate in world
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world at 716 persons per 100,000 population. While the U.S. represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses nearly 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. It is estimated that approximately 75% of inmates are incarcerated for non-violent crimes that are mostly drug related.
President Barack Obama has made criminal justice reform a personal priority. In 2015, he became the first U.S. President to visit a federal prison. The President has focused on the disparity in sentencing along racial lines, particularly in drug-related offenses. In 2010 he signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the penalties for some drug crimes. One power the President holds is to grant pardons or commutation of sentences. So far, President Obama has issued a total of 348 pardons or commutations, compared to a total of 459 by President Bill Clinton and 200 for President George W. Bush.
Trump calls for tougher stance
The presidential candidates have different views on criminal justice reform. Donald Trump believes that a tougher stance is needed and that the police are hampered in their efforts to maintain law and order. He has said that under a Trump presidency “safety would be restored.”
Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration's rollback of criminal enforcement. — Donald Trump
Clinton calls for end of mass incarceration
Hillary Clinton has made criminal justice reform a centerpiece of her campaign. She has called for an end to the “era of mass incarceration” and has said the country “must come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America.”
Black lives matter. Everyone in this country should stand firmly behind that. … Since this campaign started, I’ve been talking about the work we must do to address the systemic inequities that persist in education, in economic opportunity, in our justice system. But we have to do more than talk—we have to take action. — Hillary Clinton
End the failed war on drugs
Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson believes that the government has “criminalized” too many aspects of people’s personal lives and that the failed war on drugs, particularly in imprisoning people for marijuana possession, has created much of the problem.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein has also called for an end to the “failed war on drugs.” She has asked for an end to “police brutality, mass incarceration, and institutional racism within our justice system.”
There is a common theme among the candidates that the current system is not working well and that reforms are needed. What they don’t agree upon is just what those reforms should be.