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Criminal Justice Reform Emerging as a Major Issue in 2016 Presidential Election

| May 6, 2015

The economy, foreign affairs, and health care are all issues that we have grown accustomed to as hot button topics during the presidential cycle. Criminal justice reform on the other hand, has never been at the forefront of the national debate.

However, with the great successes at the state level regarding criminal justice reform, the national players from all ends of the political spectrum are taking notice and it appears as though we will be hearing a lot on the issue throughout the primaries and the general election.

One indicator that this will be the case is a newly released book titled, “Solutions: American Leaders Speak out on Criminal Justice.” The book is a collaboration of essays from many of the front runners for the 2016 presidency on their proposals for criminal justice reform on the national level. Below is a list of the candidates featured in the book and a brief oversight of their proposed criminal justice changes:

  • Joseph Biden: Vice President Biden stresses the importance of a revival of community policing.
  • Chris Christie: The Governor of New Jersey authors a feature in the book titled “Save Jail for the Dangerous.” In the essay, Governor Christie sets out various reform proposals, including minimizing pretrial detention as well as a focus on treatment/rehabilitation in contrast to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders.
  • Hillary Clinton: The Secretary of State recommends that federal funding should be guaranteed to the state and local levels to train law enforcement better practices that reduce incarceration.
  • Ted Cruz: The Senator from Texas lays out three key points to his criminal justice reform agenda: 1) overcriminalization; 2) giving judges discretion instead of obligating them to impose harsh mandatory minimum sentences; and 3) the demise of jury trials due to the overuse of plea-bargaining.
  • Mike Huckabee: In his essay, the former Governor of Arkansas discusses the positive effect criminal justice reforms that were instituted in Arkansas during his tenure had on recidivism and the overall budget towards incarceration.
  • Martin O’Malley: The former Governor of Maryland proposes that we abolish the death penalty. Further, O’Malley points out that housing a death row inmate is far more expensive than incarcerating a regular inmate and states that the money saved should be used on hiring more police officers and focusing on public safety.
  • Rand Paul: Senator Paul has been one of the more vocal candidates on his campaign for criminal justice reform. Specifically, Paul advocates for a revocation of mandatory minimum sentences which would allow us to focus on violent criminals that threaten the public’s safety.
  • Rick Perry: The former Governor of Texas had similar success as Governor Huckabee when he championed criminal justice reform during his tenure. Perry is in favor of treatment and rehabilitation instead of prison for many low-level offenders from a safety and fiscal standpoint.
  • Marco Rubio: The Senator from Florida discusses the overcriminalization epidemic and calls for the removal of certain minor offenses that could carry only a civil fine, but currently have criminal consequences.
  • Scott Walker: The Governor of Wisconsin points out that when he thinks of criminal justice reform, he thinks of the impact on victims. Specifically, Governor Walker supports legislation that provides for certainty in sentencing so victims truly know how long the offender will be behind bars. At the same time, Walker supports preemptive measures to prevent individuals from becoming career criminals, especially those with drug addictions.

It is refreshing to see the presidential candidates take a strong interest in criminal justice reform. It is a topic that effects each and every one of us, even if we will never see the inside of the courtroom. State and federal governments spend billions on corrections each year and smart reforms on a national level can make our nation safer while saving the tax payer a considerable amount of money.


GREG GLOD  is a Policy Analyst for Right on Crime as well as the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Based in Austin, Texas, Glod is an attorney who began his legal career as a law clerk for the Honorable Judge Laura S. Kiessling on the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, Maryland. He subsequently practiced at a litigation firm in Annapolis, Maryland before joining Right on Crime and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. In 2010, he graduated from The Pennsylvania State University with B.A. degrees in Crime, Law, and Justice and Political Science. In 2013, Glod received his J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law.