If elected President, what actions, if any, would you take to address
the problem of racial profiling by law enforcement
I have spoken out against the practice of racial profiling
for years and have co-sponsored legislation in Congress to
end it. As President, I will work to pass and sign into law
a measure that prohibits racial profiling by law enforcement
officers at all levels and provides support to eliminate the
Racial profiling relegates honest, law-abiding citizens to
second-class status when they suffer the indignity of being
stopped or searched simply because of their race, ethnicity,
or national origin.
I believe that we should require police departments that
have not done so already to adopt policies and procedures to
eliminate and prevent racial profiling. As my friend NYPD
Commissioner Ray Kelly has pointed out, it is not an
effective law enforcement tool. Indeed, rather than helping
to solve crime, racial profiling increases the level of
mistrust between law enforcement and the communities it is
sworn to protect.
Ending racial profiling is not about blaming law enforcement
or saying that law enforcement officers do not do a good
job. We know that this is simply not true. Ending racial
profiling is just good policy — and the right thing to do.
This year, the Department of Justice released a survey that
found that blacks and Hispanics are more than twice as
likely as whites to be searched, arrested, or threatened or
subdued with force when stopped by police. Of those who had
force used against them, 83 percent felt that the force was
excessive. As a State Senator, I introduced and passed a law
requiring the Illinois Department of Transportation to
record the race, age, and gender of all drivers stopped for
traffic violations so that bias could be detected and
addressed. As a United States Senator, I cosponsored federal
legislation to ban racial profiling and require federal,
state and local law enforcement agencies to take steps to
eliminate the practice.
As president, I will
continue my decades-long fight against racial profiling, and
sign legislation that will ban the practice of racial
profiling by federal law enforcement agencies and provide
federal funding to state and local police departments if
they adopt policies to prohibit the practice.
If elected President, what, if anything would you do to address the issue of police misconduct?
Police brutality is a horrible problem and every public official has an obligation to address it.
There are hundreds of thousands of honorable police officers who put their lives on the line for all
of us. They go to work each day without the same degree of certainty that most of us have that they
will return home safely. There are some, however, who engage in illegal acts of brutality, which are
unacceptable. I support a number of strategies to confront this challenge, starting with putting the
"community" back into community policing.
As President, I will make sure that local communities get the federal funding they need to recruit,
train, and retain great officers who obey the law as they uphold the law. I will expand the ranks and
the diversity of community police officers, increase cooperation between police and the community,
and decrease crime. I will also expand programs to assist police officers who want to buy homes in
neighborhoods where they serve; ensure that those who have been mistreated are treated fairly; and
work with local communities to make sure that complaints are being heard and where, sustained,
discipline is delivered swiftly and appropriately.
I will direct my Attorney General to have the Justice Department work closely with state and local
law enforcement to ensure the effective implementation of standards for use of force.
If elected President what, if anything, would you do to help reintegrate former felons into society?
Painful experience has taught us that if we do not assist offenders when they leave prison, they may
cause problems for the community and end up back inside. I have spent much of my life working
with foster kids, and I have met too many children whose fathers or mothers are in prison for a
second or third time. I know the real, human costs of recidivism and I believe that government at
every level has a role to play in combating it.
Right now, we offer too little support to people when they leave prison, and what is offered comes
piecemeal and uncoordinated. It is no wonder that two-thirds of them are re-arrested and 40 percent
end up back in prison. To address this problem, I co-sponsored the Second Chance Act, which
makes a real investment in programs to help ex-offenders return to their communities. And as part
of my Youth Opportunity Agenda I've called for investing $200 million in Reentry Partnership
Grants to give these ex-offenders a second chance. These grants will challenge local communities to
bring all stakeholders to the table -- including businesses, social service providers, law enforcement,
unions, educational and religious organizations -- and develop comprehensive plans to address the
needs of people who come out of prison. I would also support programs that teach non-violent
offenders skills while they are in prison. If we can make ex-offenders productive members of the
community, we will all benefit.
America's urban communities are facing an incarceration and post-incarceration crisis. Up to
two-thirds of the 650,000 prisoners released every year are rearrested within three years. Nearly 2
million children have a parent in a correctional facility. It is simply unacceptable to keep ignoring
this crisis in American families and communities. In the U.S. Senate, I cosponsored the Second
Chance Act and have worked to provide job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling,
and employment opportunities to ex-offenders. In addition to signing these important programs into
law, I will create a prison-to-work incentive program, modeled on the Welfare-toWork Partnership,
to create ties with employers, third-party agencies that provide training and support services to
ex-offenders, and to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates. I will also reduce
bureaucratic barriers at state correctional systems that prevent former inmates from finding and
maintaining employment. As a state senator, I fought for and passed legislation to provide
ex-offenders with expanded mental health counseling and remove barriers that prevent nonviolent
offenders from fmding and maintaining employment.
If elected President, would you work to increase or decrease the number of offenses which trigger a mandatory minimum sentence?
I think there is a role for mandatory minimums for violent crimes, but we have applied them far too
broadly and in ways that are simply unfair to minority offenders -- more than 80 percent of crack
offenders in federal court are black. Right now, crack is the only major drug that carries a
mandatory minimum for simple possession.
We need to punish illegal conduct without imposing unfair penalties that are simply out of balance
with the crime. That's why the Clinton administration created a safety valve to give judges
discretion for non-violent, first-time offenders. In addition to things like the safety valve, I've
supported drug courts as a way to help non-violent offenders get back on the right path while
confronting the consequences of their actions.
We also need to eliminate the disparity between sentencing for crack and for powder cocaine
violations. Right now, if you are convicted of possessing five grams of crack, you get five years in
prison. But you don't get five years for cocaine possession unless you have 500 grams.
There are at least 171 mandatory minimum provisions in federal criminal statutes. According to the
United States Sentencing Commission, in FY 2006, 33,636 counts of conviction carried a
mandatory minimum term of imprisonment, affecting 20,737 offenders. Most of these counts of
conviction -- 82.9 percent -- were for drug offenses. Black and Hispanic offenders make up the
overwhelming majority of individuals convicted under a mandatory minimum sentence. A RAND
study found that mandatory minimum sentences are less effective than discretionary sentencing and
drug treatment in reducing drug-related crime, and every leading expert body in criminal justice has
opposed the use of mandatory minimum sentences, including the Sentencing Commission, the
Judicial Conference, the American Bar Association, and leading criminal justice scholars. Chief
Justice Rehnquist observed that "one of the best arguments against any more mandatory minimums,
and perhaps against some of those that we already have, is that they frustrate the careful calibration
of sentences." Justice Kennedy stated that he "can accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of
federal mandatory minimum sentences." Justice Breyer, one of the architects of the Sentencing
Guidelines, noted that "[m]andatory minimum statutes are fundamentally inconsistent with
Congress' simultaneous effort to create a fair, honest, and rational sentencing system through the
use of Sentencing Guidelines." Politicians of both parties have also come out against mandatory
minimums. I will immediately review these sentences to see where we can be smarter on crime and
reduce the ineffective warehousing of nonviolent drug offenders.
If elected President, what, if anything, would you do to stem gun violence in our country?
I support reinstating and making permanent the assault weapons ban. I am committed to keeping
guns off our streets and out of the hands of criminals and the seriously mentally ill. I have voted for
and co-sponsored measures to extend and reinstate the ban while exempting hundreds of hunting
and recreational weapons. Assault weapons and clips are nothing any hunter needs and they give
criminals and the seriously mentally ill an advantage against law enforcement.
The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill in June that would provide incentives
to states to forward records of prohibited gun buyers to the National Instant Criminal Background
Check System. I support the legislation because it would help us keep guns out of the hands of
seriously mentally ill individuals who are already prohibited by law from owning a firearm.
I support closing the gun show loophole and making sure our background check system is truly
instant and accurate. I intend not only to prevent unlawful gun ownership but to take other
community-oriented steps to reduce gun violence in our cities and towns. I have worked to improve
mental-health outreach in America and have put forward plans to improve the educational
opportunities available to traditionally underserved communities.
Every year since coming into office, President Bush has proposed to either eliminate the
Community Oriented Policing Services program or to dramatically slash its funding between 80
percent and 90 percent. This is in spite of the fact that violent crime has been on the rise in recent
years. As president, my first act on this issue will be the restoration of full funding for COPS.
I also support reasonable, common-sense measures to limit the occurrence of gun violence that has
taken the lives of too many Americans, and that has particularly ravaged black
communities. These measures include closing the gun-show loophole and requiring mandatory
background checks on purchasers at gun shows. That loophole has been exploited by everyone from
foreign terrorists to the Columbine High School shooters. Closing it would not impair the rights of
hunters and other lawful gun owners. I also want to make sure the background check system works
well so that mentally deranged people, criminals and others who should not have firearms are
prevented from purchasing them. I want to make guns in this country child proof. This is, again, a
common-sense solution: guns and kids don't mix. And I would make the expired federal Assault
Weapons Ban permanent. These weapons, such as AK-47s, belong on foreign battlefields and not
on our streets. These are also not weapons that are used by hunters, sportsmen, and sportswomen.
If elected President, how would you work to ensure that as long as we have a death penalty that, at the very least, the color of one's skin or a person's financial status are not determining factors when
deciding who should receive the death penalty?
I believe that the death penalty has a role in our justice system. There are some crimes so
reprehensible and incompatible with our values that the state must exercise the ultimate
punishment. This is an issue over which I have long agonized, particularly because of important
questions about due process and the disproportionate number of minorities who face the death
penalty. Tragically, in America, unequal access to competent representation and the unequal
application of prosecutorial discretion are real threats to equal justice under the law. That is why I
intend to have a Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice that vigorously protects the civil
rights of all our citizens and thoroughly investigates and acts on reports of abuse in the criminal
I think that if the death penalty exists in our society, it is critical that we make sure that those
convicted receive a full and fair defense with access to all the latest scientific technology. I have
cosponsored bills that would use DNA testing to help ensure justice is served and innocent people
are spared. I have supported these kinds of measures as Senator, and I will continue to pursue these
safeguards as President.
I believe there are a few crimes so heinous that they warrant the ultimate penalty. But the question
is whether that sentence can be implemented in a fair and just way.
As a member of the Illinois state senate, I led efforts to reform a broken death penalty system that
sent 13 innocent people to death row because it was filled with error, questionable police tactics,
racial bias, and shoddy legal work. I drafted and passed a law requiring videotaping of
interrogations and confessions in capital cases to ensure that prosecutions are fair. As president,
Obama I will encourage the states to adopt similar reforms.
I also support efforts to ensure that capital defendants receive quality counsel. A big factor in the
faulty administration of the death penalty has been the unevenness in the quality of indigent defense
counsel. That's why I support loan-forgiveness and similar programs that will encourage the nation's
top law students to become public defenders.
Finally, I will direct my Justice
Department to undertake a comprehensive study of the administration of the federal death penalty
and to make recommendations on how to address the problems that have been identified with the
system, including racial bias.
RECIDIVISM THROUGH IN-PRISON EDUCATION AND JOB TRAINING PROGRAMS
If elected President, what actions would you take to help reduce recidivism among prisoners?
High rates of recidivism take a terrible toll on American families, communities, and the economy,
resulting in higher crime, increased prison costs, and continued instability in the lives of families
and communities. A major contributing factor to why ex-offenders end up committing crimes after
their release is that they often face steep barriers to entering the
legitimate labor market. Some employers are uncomfortable about hiring ex-offenders, unsure that
they will be skilled, dependable employees. Additionally, the sectors where ex-offenders are most
employable constitute a declining share of our workforce. Yet current assistance for ex-offenders is
incomplete and uncoordinated, and the system is failing.
As part of my Youth Opportunity Agenda, I have proposed creating new incentive-based reentry
partnership grants to help reduce recidivism and increase economic opportunity for ex-offenders. I
will ask states and local government agencies to create partnerships between corrections facilities,
community and religious organizations, community colleges or vocational programs, job placement
agencies, and local employers. These groups will be required to develop strategies that provide a
comprehensive set of services and opportunities to ex-offenders, including job training and
placement, education toward a high school degree, housing assistance, meaningful service
opportunities, and drug and mental health counseling. I plan to make a significant investment of
$200 million in competitive grants over five years, which will help to re-integrate ex-offenders into
society and re-weave broken communities.
In addition to providing more opportunities for rehabilitation programs like substance abuse
treatment and education during incarceration, I believe we need to focus on helping ex-offenders
successfully transition into society after incarceration. That is why I have been a strong advocate of
re-entry programs for prisoners, as described above. Additionally, many faith-based organizations
and nonprofits have successfully worked to provide needed programs to prisoners, and I will work
with those groups to reduce our high recidivism rate as president.
THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM AND THE DISPARATE TREATMENT OF RACIAL AND ETHNIC MINORITIES
D If elected President, what steps, if any, would you take to address the numerous disparities that exist in the current juvenile justice system, including disproportionate minority arrest and confinement
and the high number of Black youth who are tried as adults?
I am very concerned about the disproportionately high rates at which young African Americans and
Latinos in the United States are detained and incarcerated, and the high rates at which minority
youths are tried as adults. In response to the situation in Jena, Louisiana, I called on the Civil Rights
Division of the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the harsh treatment of
African-American youths by the criminal justice system there. The treatment of the so-called "Jena
Six" raised very serious questions about injustice and inequality our criminal justice system.
Our juvenile justice system is not
working as well as it should. I have always supported taking a comprehensive approach to address
the problem of youth crime and violence. That's why I have worked to reduce youth violence on all
fronts - from the media to the gun industry to parental responsibility. I was proud to help my
husband expand the 21 Century Learning Centers after-school program - which offers safe,
productive alternatives for at-risk kids - from a $1 million initiative to a $1 billion initiative. And as
Senator, I was proud to fight off the Bush administration's efforts to slash it by 40 percent.
When I'm President, I will tackle the disparity in treatment that African-American juvenile
offenders face, and I will work to ensure that they get on the path to opportunity rather than the path
I believe that the travesty of justice we saw in Jena exposed glaring inequities in our justice system
that were around long before that schoolyard fight broke out. And as president, I'll take steps to
ensure that our criminal justice system works for everyone.
Part of what we saw in Jena was a rush to prosecute and try young men as adults. As president, my
Justice Department will work with local law enforcement to strengthen identify and implement
strategies that seek to prevent youth crime before it occurs. I will build on my efforts in the Senate
to end racial profiling. And I will work to improve the quality of our nation's public defenders by
creating loan-forgiveness programs for law students who enter this field. Additionally, I will work
to replicate the successful efforts of drug courts across the country by signing a law that would
authorize federal magistrates to preside over drug courts and federal probation officers to oversee
the offenders' compliance with drug treatment programs. I will ensure that our federal courts and
probation offices have adequate resources to deal with this new program. Coupled with the
elimination of sentencing disparities and mandatory minimum reform, this will help many of our
youth avoid a life of crime.
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Vernellia Randall. All Rights Reserved
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