Draft GPUS Platform Amendment Criminal Justice
Section title: Criminal Justice
Section subtitle: More Justice, Less Crime
Our position: Reduce the prison population, invest in rehabilitation, and end the failed war on drugs.
The United States has the highest incarceration and recidivism rates of industrialized countries, while our nation's criminal justice system in general is too often inhumane, ineffective, and prohibitively expensive. With less than five percent of the world’s population, the United States locks up nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Our law enforcement priorities place too much emphasis on drug-related and petty, non-violent crimes, and not enough on prosecution of corporate, white collar, and environmental crime. The majority of prisoners are serving terms for non-violent, minor property and drug addiction crimes, or violations of their conditions of parole or probation, while the poor, the under-educated and various racial and ethnic minorities are over-represented in the prison population.
The negative effects of imprisonment are far-reaching. Prisoners are isolated from their communities and often denied contact with the free world and the media. Access to educational and legal materials is in decline. Prison administrators wield total authority over their environments, diminishing procedural input from experts and censoring employee complaints.
Our priorities must include efforts to prevent violent crime and address the legitimate needs of victims, while addressing the socio-economic root causes of crime and practicing policies that prevent recidivism.
Greens oppose the increasingly widespread privatization of prisons. These prisons treat people as their product and provide far worse service than government-run prisons. Profits in privately-run prisons are derived from understaffing, which severely reduces the acceptable care of inmates. Greens believe that greater, not lesser public input, oversight and control of prisons is the answer.
Greens call for an end to the "war on drugs", legalization of drugs and for treating drug abuse as a health issue. The “war on drugs” has been an ill conceived program that has wasted billions of dollars misdirecting law enforcement resources away from apprehending and prosecuting violent criminals, while crowding our prisons with non-violent drug offenders and disproportionately criminalizing youth of color.
Greens also call attention to the fact that more than forty percent of those 2.3 million locked down come from America’s black one-eighth.
The Green Party recognizes that our nation’s ostensibly color-blind systems of law enforcement and crime control, from police practices to prosecutorial prerogatives, to mandatory sentencing and zero-tolerance have effectively constituted an ubiquitous national policy of racially selective mass incarceration, a successor to Jim Crow as a means of social control, a policy that must be publicly discussed, widely recognized, and ultimately reversed. The nearly universal, though largely unspoken nature of this policy makes piecemeal reforms not accompanied by public discussion of the larger policy ineffective outside the context of a broad social movement.
ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION
1. Encourage and support positive approaches to punishment that build hope, responsibility and a sense of belonging. Prisons should be the sentence of last resort, reserved for violent criminals. Those convicted of non-violent offenses should be handled by alternative, community-based programs including halfway houses, work-furlough, community service, electronic monitoring, restitution, and rehabilitation programs.
2. Treat substance abuse as a medical problem, not a criminal problem. Free all non-violent incarcerated prisoners of the drug war. Provide treatment to parolees and probationers who fail a drug test instead of re-incarceration.
3. Release prisoners with diagnosed mental disorders to secure mental health treatment centers. Ensure psychological and medical care and rehabilitation services for mentally ill prisoners.
4. Release prisoners who are too old and/or infirm to pose a threat to society to less expensive, community-based facilities.
5. Make reduction of recidivism a primary goal of parole. Treat parole as a time of reintegration into the community, not as a continuation of sentence. Provide community reentry programs for inmates before their release. Provide access to education, addiction and psychological treatment, job training, work and housing upon their release. Provide counseling and other services to the members of a parolee's family, to help them with the changes caused by the parolee's return. Prevent unwarranted search without reasonable cause to parolees and their homes.
6. Increase funding for rape and domestic violence prevention and education programs.
7. Never house juvenile offenders with adults. House violent and non-violent juvenile offenders separately. Continue the education of juveniles while in custody. Substantially decrease the number of juvenile's assigned to each judge and caseworker to oversee each juvenile's placement and progress in the juvenile justice system.
PRISON CONDITIONS, PRISONER TREATMENT AND PAROLEES
8. Ensure prison conditions are humane and sanitary, including but are limited to heat, light, exercise, clothing, nutrition, libraries, possessions, and personal safety. Meet prisoners' dietary requirements. Ensure availability of psychological, drug, and medical treatment, including access to condoms and uninterrupted access to all prescribed medication. Minimize isolation of prisoners from staff and one another only as needed for safety. Make incarceration more community-based, including through increased visitor access by families. Establish and enforce prison policies that discourage racism, sexism, homophobia and rape.
9. Ban private prisons.
10. Implement a moratorium on prison construction. Redirect funds to alternatives to incarceration.
11. Require that each state prison system install a rehabilitation administrator with equal authority as the highest authority.
12. Ensure that all prisoners have the opportunity to obtain a General Education Diploma (i.e. high school equivalency diploma) and higher education. Education has proven to reduce recidivism by 10%.
13. Ensure the First Amendment rights of prisoners, including to communicate with journalists, write letters, publish their own writings, and become legal experts on their own cases.
14. Provide incarcerated individuals the right to vote by absentee ballot in the district of their domicile, and the right to vote during parole.
15. Restore the right to hold public office to felons who have completed their prison sentence.
16. Conduct racial and ethnic disparity impact studies for new and existing categories of offenses.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
17. Abolish the death penalty.
18. Repeal "three strikes" laws. Restore judicial discretion in sentencing. Abolish mandatory sentencing.
19. Establish and fund programs to strengthen self-help and community action through neighborhood centers that provide legal aid, alternative dispute-resolution practices, mediated restitution, community team policing, and access to local crisis/assault care shelters.
20. Establish elected or appointed independent civilian review boards with subpoena power to investigate complaints about prison guard and community police behavior. Sharply restrict police use of weapons and restraining techniques such as pepper spray, stun belts, tasers and choke holds.
21. Prohibit property forfeiture and denial of due process of unconvicted suspects.
22. Establish freedom on bail as a right of all defendants charged with non-violent crimes. Incorporate mental health and social services in bail agreements.
23. Increase compensation for jurors and provide child care for those serving jury duty.
24. Protect victims' rights. Ensure the opportunity for victims to make victim-impact statements. Consider forms of restitution to victims.
END THE WAR ON DRUGS
25. End the "war on drugs." Redirect funds presently budgeted for the “war on drugs” toward expanded research, education, counseling and treatment.
26. Amend the Controlled Substances Act to reflect that drug use in itself is not a crime, and that persons living in the United States arrested for using drugs should not be incarcerated with those who have committed victim oriented crimes.
27. Legalize possession of cannabis/marijuana.
28. Strike from the record prior felony convictions for marijuana possession.
29. Grant amnesty and release from confinement without any further parole or probation, those who have been incarcerated for the use of marijuana in federal and state prisons and in county/city jails, and who otherwise are without convictions for victim oriented crimes, or who do not require treatment for abuse of hard drugs. Provide the option for drug treatment to those leaving confinement.
30. Implement a step by step program to decriminalize all drugs in the United States.
2004 SECTION ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE
Our criminal justice system is inhumane, ineffective, and prohibitively expensive. The breaking of the bonds of community and the economic and social root causes of crime must be addressed. Retribution has replaced rehabilitation. Prison terms are becoming longer, and we are building more prisons. The majority of prisoners are serving terms for minor property and drug crimes or violations of their conditions of parole or probation. Poor and uneducated minorities are over-represented in the prison population.
The effects of imprisonment are largely negative. Prisoners are increasingly isolated from the communities they came from and are often denied contact with the outside world or the media. Access to educational and legal materials is disappearing. Boredom and hopelessness prevail. The United States has the highest recidivism rate of any industrialized country. Rape is a serious problem in prison. The increasingly widespread privatization of prisons renders some prisoners virtual corporate slaves.
Law enforcement is placing too much emphasis on drug-related and petty street crimes, and not enough on prosecution of corporate, white collar, and environmental crimes. Defrauding someone of their life savings is the same as robbery. Spraying pesticides while workers are in the fields, negligently maintaining dangerous workplaces that result in death or maiming, or dumping toxic substances should be treated the same as other crimes.
At the same time, we must develop a firm approach to law enforcement that directly addresses violent crime, including trafficking in hard drugs. Violence that creates a climate of further violence must be stopped.
Police brutality has reached epidemic levels in the United States and we call for effective monitoring of police agencies to eliminate police brutality.
We support a citizen’s right of access to justice. Our system of justice must be made convenient to rich and poor alike, guarding it against big business’ attempts to regulate and, in effect, control our civil justice/civil jury system.
The Green Party proposes the following policies:
Alternatives to Incarceration
1. Any attempt to combat crime must begin with restoration of community. We encourage positive approaches that build hope, responsibility and a sense of belonging. Prisons should be the sentence of last resort, reserved for violent criminals. Those convicted of non-violent offenses should be handled by other programs including halfway houses, electronic monitoring, work-furlough, community service and restitution programs. Substance abuse should be addressed as a medical problem requiring treatment, not imprisonment, and a failed drug test should not result in revocation of parole. Incarcerated prisoners of the drug war should be release to the above programs.
2. Prisons are presently serving some of the population formerly held in the mental health system. Ninety-five percent of those who commit suicide in jail or prison have a diagnosed mental disorder. Mentally ill prisoners need separate psychiatric facilities providing psychological and medical care, rehabilitation, and release to appropriate community mental health facilities.
3. The aging of our prison population will lead to huge needless expenditures in the next decade. Prisoners too old and those too infirm to be a threat to society should be released to less expensive, community-based facilities.
4. Juvenile offenders must not be housed in needlessly restrictive settings. They must never be housed with adults. Their education must continue while in custody. A single judge and a single caseworker should be assigned to oversee each juvenile’s placement and progress in the juvenile justice system.
5. Our parole system is a failure. Reduction of recidivism should be a goal of parole. Parole should be treated as a time of reintegration into the community, not as a continuation of a person’s sentence. Parolees need community reentry programs before release. Paroled prisoners should have access to education, drug treatment, psychological treatment, job training, work and housing. Their persons and homes should not be subject to search without reasonable cause. Appropriate services should also be available to the members of a parolee’s family, to help them with the changes caused by the parolee’s return.
6. We call for more funding for rape and domestic violence prevention and education programs, and stiffer sentences for people convicted of domestic violence.
7. Private prisons should be illegal. Corrections Corporation of America ranks among the top five performing companies on the New York Stock Exchange during the late 1990’s, and operates the sixth largest prison system in the country. These prisons treat people as their product, and provide far worse service than government-run prisons. Profits are derived from understaffing, which severely reduces the acceptable care of inmates.
8. Prison conditions must be humane and sanitary and should include heat, light, exercise, clothing, nutrition, libraries, possessions, and personal safety. Prisoners are entitled to psychological, drug, and medical treatment, including access to condoms and uninterrupted access to all prescribed medication. Isolation of prisoners from staff and one another should be minimal and only as needed for safety.
9. Prison officials must institute and enforce policies that discourage racism, sexism, and homophobia in prison. End racially segregated housing.
10. The First Amendment rights of prisoners must not be revoked. Prisoners have the right to talk to journalists, write letters, publish their own writings, and become legal experts on their own cases.
11. Encourage all prisoners to have the opportunity to obtain a G.E.D. (high school equivalency diploma) and higher education. Inmates who earn a diploma have a recidivism rate of 10%, compared with 60% for other inmates.
12. Prisons should be community-based where possible. Where they are not, transportation for visits should be made available and subsidized. Unless the reason for imprisonment indicates otherwise, parents should have access to their children if it is in the interest of the child.
13. Incarcerated individuals should retain the right to vote by absentee ballot in the district of their domicile, and should retain the right to vote during parole. [See section B. Political Participation in chapter I]
14. We support the reinstatement of voting rights and the right to hold public office to ex-felons who have completed their prison sentence.
15. Establish programs to strengthen self-help and community action through neighborhood centers that provide well-funded legal aid, alternative dispute-resolution practices, mediated restitution, community team policing, and local crisis/assault care shelters.
16. Establish elected or appointed independent civilian review boards with subpoena power to investigate complaints about prison guard and community police behavior.
17. Maximize restrictions on police use of weapons and restraining techniques such as pepper spray, stun belts, and choke holds.
18. Abolish the death penalty.
19. Repeal state “Three Strikes” laws. Restore judicial discretion in sentencing, as opposed to mandatory sentencing.
20. Freedom on bail must be the right of all defendants charged with non-violent crimes. Mental health and social services should be incorporated in the bail agreement. Laws giving prosecutors the power to deny defendants the right to remain free on bail must be repealed.
21. Stop forfeiture of the property of unconvicted suspects. It is state piracy and denial of due process.
22. Implement a moratorium on prison construction. The funds saved should be used for alternatives to incarceration.
23. Compensation for jurors should be increased and child care provided for those serving on a jury. Employers should be encouraged to continue paying an employees’ wages while they serve.
24. Thoughtful, carefully considered gun control laws such as the “Brady Bill” and the waiting period for record search before gun dealers may sell a gun should be supported.
25. Enact tough DWI (driving while intoxicated) laws.
26. A consistent policy of protection against violence in schools should be developed and enforced.
27. Victims’ rights must be guarded and protected. Victim-impact statements are a method for achieving full justice, and restitution should be considered in many cases.
28. We call for decriminalization of victimless crimes. For example, the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
29. We call for legalization of industrial hemp and all its many uses.
30. We call for an end to the “war on drugs.” We support expanded drug counseling and treatment.