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Will The Republican Party Really Push For Criminal Justice Reform?

Tagged under: Research USA Politics Criminal Justice
By Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi on January 19, 2016.

A picture of the Republican party logo.

"While getting criminals off the street is essential, more attention must be paid to the process of restoring those individuals to the community. Prisons should do more than punish; they should attempt to rehabilitate and institute proven prisoner reentry systems to reduce recidivism and future victimization. We endorse State and local initiatives that are trying new approaches, often called accountability courts."

This quote comes straight from the GOP's platform, called Renewing American Values. With the pronouncements made by the Presidential candidates, it has become clear that the Republican Party has realized at least some of their positions on crime did not work as intended. Derek Cohen from Right on Crime, a conservative think tank, believes that the topic of reform has finally hit the mainstream is because of its wide appeal. "It resonates with different conservatives for different reasons. The fiscal argument is obvious – the U.S. spends billions on courts, police and correctional facilities. But you also have social conservatives concerned about what we're doing to our communities, and libertarians suspect of government overreach."

Party operatives also point out the fact it should help the Party of Lincoln regain minority supporters. President Obama won 93 percent of the African-American vote and 71 percent of the Hispanic vote when he was re-elected in 2012. It is important to point that minority communities are also disproportionately affected by the country's ever expanding prison population, something that strategists obviously have not ignored. In fact, GOP strategist Ford O'Connell thinks that is exactly what is happening. "America's demographics are changing at lightning speed, so Republicans are going to have to court minority voters, period. This is a smart way to do it. Will it move the needle on the 2016 electoral map? I don't know. But at least there's a realization that we can't win the White House relying solely on white voters."

Currently, there are 11 candidates running in the Republican Party, down from the 15 that started. Using Real Clear Politics' current poll average from today, January 19, 2016, we compare the top 5 candidates' positions on criminal justice reform. Current polling shows the top 5 are Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Carson, and Bush.

An image of Donald Trump.

1. Donald Trump, 34.5%.

Statements on Criminal Justice:

Donald Trump is a strong support of the death penalty. In 1989, after the Central Park jogger case he spent nearly $85,000 ($162,690 in 2015 terms) to take out a full page ad (JPG image) in 4 different New York newspapers with the headline "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY! BRING BACK THE POLICE!" It is important to note that the 5 who were convicted of the crime ended up having their convictions vacated and the city settled for $41 million in 2014 with the 5 seeking an additional $52 million in damages from the state.

In fact, in his book The America We Deserve, published during his 2000 presidential campaign, he stated that his "only complaint is that lethal injection is too comfortable a way to go." He also stated that "unless we stand up for tough anti-crime policies, they will be replaced by policies that emphasize criminals' rights over those of ordinary citizens." He continued, saying "Soft criminal sentences are based on the proposition that criminals are the victims of society. A lot of people in high places really do believe that criminals are victims."

During this current campaign, Trump was asked about the Black Lives Matter movement while on NBC's Meet The Press. He responded by saying "Well I certainly see what's going on, but at the same time we have to give power back to the police because we have to have law and order." In fact, he also stated that https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/12/10/donald-trump-wants-the-death-penalty-for-those-who-kill-police-officers/ he would issue an executive order making the death penalty automatic for those who kill police officers.

Contact: Let Trump's campaign know what you think about his position on criminal justice reform, especially expungement.

An image of Ted Cruz.

2. Ted Cruz, 19.3%.

Statements on Criminal Justice:

In 1994, Ted Cruz was a law clerk for federal judge, J. Michael Luttig, whom Cruz considered to be his mentor. That very same year, Luttig's father was ambushed and murdered in his driveway. Cruz's friend, David Panton, believes that experience shaped Cruz's views on crime. Since then, Panton says Cruz has devoted his life to "ensuring that those who have committed heinous crimes do not get off easy."

In fact, when it comes to the death penalty, Cruz, who defended the punishment in front of his peers at Harvard, has gone so far as to declare the Pope was wrong when His Holiness said the death penalty should be abolished.

While serving as Solicitor General of Texas, the Canadian-born son of a Cuban-born father and a mother who was born in Delaware, has proven himself to be tough on crime committed by immigrants. He regularly refers to Medellin v. Texas, a case he calls his proudest achievement in which the Supreme Court ruled Texas could ignore a decision from the International Court of Justice, which requested that the US review the convictions of 51 Mexican nationals, including some who were on death row. The ICJ decision stated that the Mexican nationals on death row should have counsel from their own government, but the Supreme Court was convinced by Cruz's arguments that the decision could be ignored.

He also introduced Kate's Law, a law that requires immigrants who were deported and caught having returned or attempting to return to the US should be given mandatory sentences of 5 years. On the other hand, he wrote an opinion piece or the Brennan Center for Justice, asking for relaxed sentencing and putting more power back in the hands of judges. "The power to define crimes and to prosecute and jail people for committing them must be exercised with the utmost care," Cruz wrote.

As any true politician does, with Trump's efforts to push the Republican Party further right than ever before succeeding, Cruz began to denounce every bill he ever proposed. He went so far as to break from the powerful Koch brothers, denouncing the bi-partisan Sentencing Reforms and Corrections Act. Cruz has gone even further, stating in a radio interview that most "violent criminal are Democrats," a claim rated as "Mostly False" by PolitiFact.

Cruz's Tough On Crime attitude does not extend to corporations, however. In co-sponsoring the Mens Rea Reform Act, he has pushed to remove criminal penalties that are currently being imposed on corporations that violate regulations.

Contact: Make sure Cruz knows what you think about reforming the sealing and expunging process among the raft of other criminal justice reform needs.

An image of Marco Rubio.

3. Marco Rubio, 11.8%.

Statements on Criminal Justice:

Marco Rubio stands out among most Republican candidates in that he has made statements and proposed bills that recognize the plight of African-Americans in their experiences with policing and prisons. Rubio's support helped push through a "children's zone" in Liberty City, a low-income, high-crime part of Miami. The Miami Children's Initiative, which grew out of that bill, was created in order to, as Rubio put it, end a system where "more young black men are headed to incarceration than to graduation."

While on Fox News, Rubio continued to stick to his views, saying racial dispareities need to end. "It is a fact in the African-American community around this country there has been for a number of years now, a growing resentment towards the way law enforcement and its criminal justice system interacts with their community. This is a problem our nation has to confront because it is real."

Rubio has not created a public record for his position on the death penalty to be able to pin him one way or the other, but in his relatively successful book 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future, he wrote that death row inmates should be limited in the number of appeals they are permitted to file. "Delays of this nature hinder justice for the victims and erode public confidence in Florida's criminal justice system."

Contact: Send Rubio's campaign an email to tell them what you think about his stance on criminal justice reform and ask for a statement on his position when it comes to expunging charges that are impacted by reform.

An image of Ben Carson.

4. Ben Carson, 9.0%.

Statements on Criminal Justice:

Ben Carson, in stark difference to Rubio, has not yet been clear on how he views the relationship of African-American communities and the nation's police. When speaking to a predominantly African-American church in Baltimore, he stated "We don't have to be victims. We don't have to be somebody that somebody else has to do something for." He continued, stating that he's "still waiting for the evidence" that African-Americans truly are targeted, especially since he himself has "never had a negative encounter with a police officer."

With that in mind, Carson has also spoken out against mandatory minimums and lower punishments for minor crimes. When speaking to an audience of sheriffs, he also spoke out against the current system, saying "To take those people and put them again into Criminal University, which is what a lot of the jails are, is not helping us as a society." Furthermore, he has gone so far as to say that ex-cons should have their voting rights restored. Finally, on the death penalty, he is in firm support of every state deciding for themselves.

Contact: Let Carson's campaign know what you think about his position on criminal justice reform. Ask what he thinks about expungement of charges.

An image of Jeb Bush.

5. Jeb Bush, 7.2%.

Statements on Criminal Justice:

As Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush signed into law "10-20-Life, a statute which set up mandatory minimums for gun crimes. Certain felonies in which a person pulls a gun would result in a 10-year sentence. Firing a gun during a crime would result in a 20-year sentence. Injuring or killing someone by pulling the trigger during a crime would result in a life sentence. He also signed into law Florida's Stand Your Ground law and the Three Strikes Law, both of which drastically altered the criminal justice landscape.

On the death penalty, Bush has always been in favor of the punishment. During his 1994 campaign for Governor, he attacked his opponent for failing to enforce the sentence, using comments from a woman whose 10-year-old daughter's murderer had spent 13 years on death row. Despite that, Bush put a stop to executions following the botched injection of Angel Diaz (Charlie Crist, who became governor after Bush, lifted the ban). Recently, however, Bush seems to have had a change of heart. On November 1, 2015, Bush told Meet the Press that his faith, among other things, has result in him feeling conflicted about the death penalty.

During that 1994 campaign, Bush also argued that prisoners should serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before becoming eligible for parole. He also wanted the state to build more prisons and speed up the appeal process for death penalty cases. As for the juvenile justice system, he told the Orlando Sentinel that was in favor of "emphasizing punishment over therapy."

Contact: Let Jeb's campaign know you want to know his position on criminal justice reform.

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