Platform Priorities: Criminal Justice Reform Unites Democrats and Republicans

By Holly Harris of the U.S. Justice Action Network and Coalition President, Steve Hawkins.

Our country has spent the past few weeks trying to come to grips with the tragic shootings in Louisiana, Dallas and Minnesota. We have seen how these horrific events can easily deepen divisions among Americans from all walks of life. But even in the midst of heightened political rhetoric, there are some issues where the parties can still work together.

This week, the delegates at the Democratic National Convention will approve this year’s platform and much of it will contrast with the platform approved by the Republican National Convention last week. While there are very divergent views on health care, foreign policy, and much more, there is one area where they both agree: it’s time to reform our criminal justice system.

Through the U.S. Justice Action Network and the Coalition for Public Safety, we have spent the past year and a half bringing together diverse points of view, from organizations on the left like ACLU National and the NAACP to those on the right like FreedomWorks and Americans for Tax Reform, to forge a path forward for justice reform. Recent events have further exposed cracks in our justice system, and highlighted the pressing need for policies that unite all communities.

For the past few months, we’ve worked hard to ensure our bipartisan, commonsense goals were reflected in the platforms of both parties. We engaged with the platform committee members and policymakers to put a focus on reducing long sentences, which too often turn someone convicted of a minor offense into a hardened criminal, and removing institutional barriers that inhibit returning citizens from finding housing and adequate employment. We zeroed in on policies that had already been successful in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina — states that reduced their prison population and crime rate. This week our efforts paid off.

Both parties put an emphasis on measures that will address the inequalities in our system, especially around sentencing. While the language might not be identical, the priorities are similar. Both parties seek to ensure those who deserve to be behind bars stay there, while those who would be better served in treatment and rehabilitation have access to those services so they can turn away from crime and become productive citizens. As we’ve seen at the state and local levels, these policies don’t just save money and make our system fairer, they also lower crime and recidivism rates, which makes us all safer.

Democratic Platform Excerpt:

“Democrats are committed to reforming our criminal justice system and ending mass incarceration. Something is profoundly wrong when a quarter of the world’s prison population is in the United States, even though we have less than five percent of the world’s people…Instead of investing in more jails and incarceration, we need to provide greater investment in jobs and education, and end to the school-to-prison pipeline. We will reform mandatory minimum sentences…We will remove barriers to help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully re-enter society by banning the box, [and] expanding reentry programs.”

Republican Platform Excerpt:

“We applaud the Republican governors and legislators who have been implementing criminal justice reforms…[We support] diversion of first-time, nonviolent offenders to community sentencing, accountability courts, drug courts, veterans treatment courts, and guidance by faith-based institution with proven track records of rehabilitation… Modifications to [mandatory minimums] should be targeted toward particular categories, especially nonviolent offenders and persons with drug, alcohol or mental health issues and should require disclosure by the courts of any judicial departure from the States sentencing requirements.”

While our elected officials have a lot of tough choices in front of them right now, supporting criminal justice reform shouldn’t be one of them. In state after state, from coast to coast, our polling shows overwhelming support for criminal justice reform across the ideological spectrum. Progressives and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans are standing shoulder to shoulder to fix our broken justice system.

That’s a cause we all can get behind. 

The Coalition for Public Safety is the largest national bipartisan effort working to make our criminal justice system smarter, fairer and more cost effective at the federal, state and local levels.

The Coalition has brought together the most prominent organizations from across the political spectrum to pursue comprehensive reforms, including: the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Tax Reform, the Center for American Progress, the Faith & Freedom Coalition, FreedomWorks, the Leadership Conference Education Fund, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Right on Crime. Together, these organizations represent tens of millions of Americans seeking commonsense criminal justice reforms. Our key supporters are Laura and John Arnold, Koch Industries, Inc., the Ford Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.