2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

Section 2: Criminal Justice


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The NAACP 2008 Presidential Candidate Civil Rights Questionnaire



If elected President, what actions, if any, would you take to address the problem of racial profiling by law enforcement officials?

Senator Clinton:

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 practice.

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.

Senator Obama:

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?
Senator Clinton:

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.

Senator Obama:

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?
Senator Clinton:

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.
Senator Obama:

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?
Senator Clinton:

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.
Senator Obama:

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?
Senator Clinton:

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.
Senator Obama:

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?
Senator Clinton:

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 justice system.

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.
Senator Obama:

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.


If elected President, what actions would you take to help reduce recidivism among prisoners?
Senator Clinton:

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.
Senator Obama:

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.


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?

Senator Clinton:

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 to prison.

Senator Obama:

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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