2008 Candidates Agree! Criminal Justice Isn’t Important
Inspired by Amy Taylor, DMI's Immigration Project Coordinator, and her in-depth examination on this blog into each presidential candidates' stance on immigration issues, I decided to venture onto the candidates' campaign websites to learn about their respective positions on the many important criminal justice issues facing our country today. Particularly, I wanted to know their assessments of and proposed solutions to our towering prison population, sputtering war on drugs, continued (even if slightly dissipated) use of the death penalty, and the racial and economic implications of our policing and incarceration policies. With the world's largest prison population, it should be interesting to hear from each candidate.
I started with the Republicans.
Unfortunately, Mitt Romney's site identified 10 key issues in his campaign, but not one was related to criminal justice. In fact, the word prison does not even appear on his "issues" page.
John McCain must have strong feelings on the issue. Well, if he does, I wouldn't know, since it is not among the six issues on which he has focused. And no "prison".
Surely Sam Brownback has something to say about criminal justice out of the 13 key issues his campaign is focusing on? Or not. By the way, is there a code word for "prison"?
Nowhere in Duncan Hunter's verbose 24-issue scroll could I find the words "prison" or "criminal justice".
Does anyone, even Rudy Giuliani, understand or care about our problem-riddled criminal justice system? Well, Rudy does not talk about prisons or criminal justice, but he does place within "Rudy's Record" the headline "Fighting Crime", in which he briefly mentions that New York's crime rate fell during his tenure. For someone who advertises criminal justice policy as one of his strengths, his website doesn't offer us very much of anything.
Apparently the Elephant party cannot even recognize the other elephant in the room.
After striking out with the Republicans, I take a swing at the Democrats. Undoubtedly, the Democratic candidates will have much to say on criminal justice reform.
Let's start with Hillary Clinton. Did I accidentally end up back on Mitt Romney's site, or is there no mention of criminal justice, prison, capital punishment, the disproportionate effect of incarceration on certain races and communities, the drug war, or much of anything else on Hillary's site? In fact, she is the only candidate who does not appear even to have an "issues" link. Raising money must be more important.
So I hurry to Barack Obama's site, getting impatient. Well, I'll have to keep waiting, since Obama tells me where he stands on 11 "key" issues, but does not disclose a single opinion about where he stands on the rocky terrain of criminal justice. Again, the word "prison" remains elusive.
As a former vice-presidential candidate and lawyer, John Edwards must feel passionately about these issues. Did I say passion? How about even recognition? The best Edwards' manages is a discussion of eliminating poverty, yet he fails to note that one of its most significant results would be to lower our prison population. As for "prison", take a guess ...
I have a feeling Bill Richardson will come through for me ... which is why I should never gamble. Seven issues, but nothing on criminal justice or prison.
Moving on to Christopher Dodd, he also overlooked the wide expanse of criminal justice in the six issues he has prioritized, and "prison" is again nowhere to be found. [NOTE: this blurb moved from its original location]
I guess there aren't any criminal justice problems in Alaska, because Mike Gravel doesn't mention any.
Joe Biden, somewhat like his counterpart Rudy, manages to mention the following words once: "crime", "criminal justice", "violence", and "violent" (though not "prison"), and all he suggests in this area is putting more police on the street. Is that the best the Democrats can do? Or can donkeys not detect the elephant in the room either?
Flabbergasted that not one candidate even mentions our prison population or any other myriad criminal justice issues, I wish I could find just one who did, simply to expose all the others for their complete ignorance or antipathy or apathy regarding these crucial issues. Then, last but not least, I encounter Dennis Kucinich's site.
On the "Issues" page, second from the top out of 10 issues on the right of the page, is a section on "Crime/Law". Beneath that, Kucinich has highlighted the issues in criminal justice he thinks are most pressing: Crime, the Death Penalty, the Drug War, Gun Laws/Rights/Violence, Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, and Marijuana Decriminalization. And within the "Drug War" section, he notes that the U.S. prison population is expected to grow by 200,000 inmates by 2011.
Finally! A candidate who cares enough about criminal justice reform not only to mention it, but also to highlight the pressing issues within it!
Unless Kucinich wins the presidency, though, it seems clear that our country's leadership will continue to fail us on reforming the criminal justice system (or even talking about it). How else could 10 candidates who isolate 89 issues combined (and two who make passing reference to fighting crime) completely ignore the topic, while one candidate alone discusses six issues within it? When did criminal justice issues become so unimportant? We appear more likely to see a candidate's position on the use of UFOs for homeland security than we are on racism in the criminal justice system.
This is not to say that there are not many other important issues facing this country, from the war in Iraq to health care. But it's remarkable that I can't tell you a single thing about what almost any of the candidates' viewpoints are on these and other criminal justice issues, simply because the candidates don't want to tell me. Or you. Or anyone.
How can they be silent when, between 1980 and 2005, the number of inmates incarcerated for drug possession in state prisons or local jails grew by more than 1,000% and now cost us $8.3 billion every year? How can they be mute when, since 1970, our overall prison population has increased 628%? How can they turn the other cheek when there are over 5.6 million Americans alive today who have spent time in state or federal prison?
Despite the seismic ramifications our criminal justice policies have throughout all of our communities, what do our 2008 Presidential candidates, Republican and Democrat, have to say about this glaring problem? Nothing. Not a page, not a paragraph, not a parenthetical. Not even a word.
Well I have a word that they each might consider putting on their campaign sites for the time being: Embarrassing.