2016 Presidential Election: Criminal Justice Reform

Don Boudreaux,

Release Date
June 21, 2016


Criminal Justice

Trump, Clinton, and Bernie all agree — America’s criminal justice system is broken.
Mandatory minimum sentences and harsh drug laws are driving a massive increase in the prison populations.
Since the 1980s, the number of federal prisoners has jumped 850%, and the chance of being sent to prison for a drug crime rose by 350%. And these effects fall disproportionately on poor and minority communities.
All the 2016 candidates have had something to say about this slow-motion disaster, and Prof. Don Boudreaux helps you make sense of the big issues behind the talking points.
What do you think: Can we solve the problem by decriminalizing drugs like marijuana? Or do we need a bigger police presence and stronger tough-on-crime sentencing laws?
Subscribe to our channel for more election analysis with Don Boudreaux and non-stop binge learning all summer long.

US Prison Population: The Largest in the World (video) The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world—more people than even China or Russia. Wait, really? If you’re as surprised as we were, watch this video to see the numbers. 

Racial Inequality in the Criminal Justice System (video) Why are minorities so grossly overrepresented in U.S. prisons?  Prof. Daniel D’Amico argues the root of this problem may lie with the criminal justice system itself, and economics can help us better understand what is happening. 

3 Things You NEED To Know About Mandatory Prison Sentencing (video) Prof.Boudreaux mentioned the impact mandatory minimum laws on prison populations, watch this video to learn more about these laws and the effects they’ve had. 

One of the few issues with bipartisan support this election season is
>> Criminal justice reform.
>> In the current criminal justice system.
>> Crime.
>> Prison.
>> Jail.
>> Punishment.
>> And incarceration.
>> Many candidates from across the political spectrum have come together to recognize that the tough on crime criminal justice approach of the past couple of decades has failed miserably.

Both Republicans and Democrats point out that there 1.5 million Americans in U.S. State and Federal prisons. And since the enactment in the 1980’s of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, the federal prison population has increased by more than 850%. The U.S. incarcerates its citizens at a rate that is more than five times the world average.

What explains this massive increase in incarceration? Candidates from both sides of the aisle identify the war on drugs as the primary culprit. Between 1980 and 2010, the likelihood of being sent to prison for a drug related crime rose by 350%. Mandatory minimum sentences have resulted in decades long prison sentences for basic drug possession.

This over-criminalization of victimless activities has had a massively detrimental impact, especially on poor and minority communities across the country, some of which see more than one in ten of their residents in prison. White people make up 64% of the US population, but only 31% of the prison population.

Whereas black people make up 14% of the general population, but a whopping 36% of the prison population. Black males have a one in four chance of going to jail at some point in their lives. A big reason for this fact is that black people are much more likely than whites to be prosecuted for drug crimes, despite consuming drugs at the same rate as white people.

Both Republican and Democratic candidates have proposed criminal justice reforms to address this over-criminalization and racial disparity. These range from ending mandatory minimum sentences, to promoting the use of drug courts and treatment centers instead of traditional courts and prisons.
>> Drug courts work. Some people look at them and say, well it’s a judge becoming a social worker.

It’s not true at all.
>> Some candidates have even called for the decriminalization of marijuana.
>> The time is long overdue for us to remove the federal prohibition on marijuana.
>> Yet, there are still candidates who oppose reform. They point out that the 1.5 million prisoners is the smallest total prison population since 2005.

They also argue that violent crime, not drug crime, is the primary driver of prison population growth. So what do you think? Should the criminal justice system be reformed? And if so, how?