This story is published as part of StudentNations Vision 2020: Next Generation Election Stories, reports by young journalists that focus on the concerns of various young voters. In this project, in collaboration with Dr. Sherri Williams recruited young journalists from diverse backgrounds to come up with story ideas and share their peers’ concerns about the most important choices in our lives. We will continue to publish two stories each week through September.
W.When Quintez Brown was very young, his father was sentenced to prison.
Brown, now a first-generation student studying political science at the University of Louisville, said the lessons he learned from his father’s experience of incarceration influenced any political stance he adopts. “I have a feeling that a lot of people tend to dehumanize these populations,” he said. “I see him as a person, as a person who deserves a second chance. He says, “That’s not fair. The system is messed up. Somebody should do something about it.” But guess what? I’m the only person who really hears him. “
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 52 percent of state residents and 63 percent of federal residents are parents of dependent minors. An estimated 1.7 million children are cared for by incarcerated men and women, approximately 2.3 percent of the US population under the age of 18.
Detainees and their relatives live the reality of a frayed criminal justice system. Crucial to them is a presidential candidate who gives priority to criminal justice reform. You won’t see such a candidate in the 2020 elections, however. As November approaches, voters will have to choose between two candidates with controversial criminal justice records.
In 2018, Trump signed the First Step Act, which prioritizes re-entry efforts and introduces a new release account system that takes inmates’ “personal growth” into account when considering early releases for nonviolent offenders. Despite the bill’s bipartisan success, Trump’s earlier comments give criminal justice reformers like Brown a break. In a 2017 speech to a law enforcement group, Trump said that when dealing with gang members, it is okay not to protect their heads when they are put in a police car. “Please don’t be too nice,” he said.
Trump spent $ 85,000 in 1989 on full-page national newspaper ads calling for the death penalty for the “Central Park Five” of five black and Latin American teenagers accused of raping and beating a white woman. Thirteen years later, DNA evidence exonerated them. Still, even 10 years after modern science proved her innocence, Trump refused to admit he was wrong.
Additionally, during his tenure with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump helped prop up the private prison industry Revocation of an initiative by the Obama administration This should end the use of private contractors for the management of federal prisons and its administration Lawsuit against the state of California about his private prison ban.
But Joe Biden has a record that also worries voters interested in criminal justice reform. Biden was a major player in the implementation of the war on drugs in the 1980s and 1990s. The then-Senator from Delaware penned four notable laws that led to the current racial disparities in mass incarceration, including the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which provided tougher penalties for using cracked cocaine, which was much cheaper than the original.
Young voters like Brown, who is 19 and will vote for the first time in November, are paying close attention to candidates’ histories regarding the criminal justice system and how they plan to reform the country’s bloated prison system. They are looking for a presidential candidate with plans for mass imprisonment, bail and the death penalty – and both candidates, they say, are lackluster in that regard. “The message we are just getting is,” Settle with me or get Trump. “This is the message the DNC is giving us,” Brown said.
Although Biden recently changed his stance to announce a platform that includes criminal justice reform measures aimed at slowing down the incarceration of masses, reducing prison funding and seeking help from at-risk groups, including girls, many activists say criminal justice reform that this is not working far enough.
Even before Biden’s nomination, the Democratic pool of presidential candidates hadn’t offered much hope to young voters who prioritized criminal justice, said Tyrone Parker, director of the Washington-based nonprofit alliance of affected men for juvenile justice. Parker, 72, lived his life in criminal justice reform.
“I had valid concerns about choosing a candidate,” he said. “We have so many men and women locked up. We keep the world in custody. These men and women should have had a platform that contained a plan to help these people find their way back into society. Or that has even addressed mass incarceration on the scale it is on. ”
That reluctance, says Carrie Cole, a 23-year-old graduate of the University of Louisville’s Kent School of Social Work and part of the Bail Project in Louisville, is in part due to the difficult position many candidates find themselves in: Presidential Candidates Step One fine line between advocating progressive views and maintaining a criminal position, said Cole. “Maybe I naively hope that the politicians will take care of it,” she said. “But I don’t think candidates specifically say,” This is a problem. This is what we should do to solve it. “Because so many people and voters still adopt a ‘hard on crime’ mentality.”
But people affected by mass incarceration, and not just the incarcerated themselves, have firsthand experience of how tough crime policies work. People are five to ten times more likely to be detained in the US than in other developed countries. In the past 40 years the number of prisoners has increased by 500 percent. Figures released by the Justice Department in 2017 show that one in seven detainees is serving a life sentence. “As the son of someone who was previously incarcerated, it is especially important to me,” Brown said. “When I talk about former prisoners, I am talking about my father.”
Of the 12 Democratic candidates who made it to October 2019, Senator Cory Booker was the loudest about his political plans for criminal justice reform. Booker Cowrote bills like the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act were created to allocate $ 2 billion to prisons to reduce their population. He also campaigned for a law to legalize marijuana that, if implemented, would drastically reduce the number of people entering the criminal justice system: 43 percent of all drug arrests are for marijuana possession, with blacks being arrested almost four times more often than whites.
When Booker was eliminated, Parker felt that it was a signal that other voters were not prioritizing criminal justice when considering a candidate. Like Cole, Parker says that candidates’ lack of interest in the subject seems deliberate. “In a world where all people were held equal, there would be comprehensive approaches from all directions to address the injustices of incarceration,” said Parker. “However, it’s not what we see because people are still afraid of this population. It’s not politically wise to support [those incarcerated]. ”
Not only that, many former prisoners are often overlooked by politicians because they cannot vote –31 states disenfranchisedor otherwise exclude people with a criminal record from voting.
Despite a wave of anti-mass incarceration initiatives, Republicans and Democrats continue to support heavy punitive measures against violent crimes. According to a 2016 Vox Though many voters advocated ending mass imprisonment by stopping and reducing sentences for nonviolent crimes, 60 percent of voters opposed the release or reduction of sentences for those convicted of violent crimes – even if they showed signs of rehabilitation .
But that attitude could change, Brown said, noting that Covid-19 triggered a wave of early releases this year. Injustices that appear to be burned into the system can be changed quickly if politicians see it important, he said: It took only weeks for country-level politicians to change their attitudes towards nonviolent offenders.
“I think this election cycle showed that the Democratic Party wasn’t really for people and voters who really need politics on their side – people like imprisoned people, like poor workers,” said Brown.
Jackie Lantsman, a 22-year-old intern at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit that creates advanced guidelines for criminal justice reform, said it was time for young people’s concerns to be given greater attention by politicians. “I don’t think it is very representative who politicians turn to trying to collect votes. Statistically, they claim that older people are more prone to elections, more reliable and that’s why they focus on them. That’s a Myth, “Lantsman said.” I think when you are really faced with gerrymandering and places where young people learn and socialize, there are absolutely opportunities to get them involved. ”
Voters like Brown and Cole are also optimistic and expect a more compassionate outlook for those affected by the criminal justice system. Reforms are on the horizon thanks to the increasing knowledge of young voters exposed to online movements like Black Lives Matter. Right now, Brown, Cole, and Lantsman are hoping for a future that prioritizes criminal justice reform as an issue – one that affects all citizens.
“Now I think more people are realizing that ‘tough on crime’ was racist and immoral,” Brown said. “We know that these ideologies are political games.”