Where Hillary Clinton Stands on Criminal Justice Reform

intern 2016 Profiles

March 26, 2015

We’re taking a look at where the 2016 Presidential Candidates stand on justice reform. See how the rest of them stack up.

ClintonAs First Lady, Hillary Clinton called for tougher sentencing laws while lobbying for President Bill Clinton’s 1994 omnibus crime bill
. During the 2016 campaign, she has spoken about the need for reform on sentencing, mass incarceration, and drug laws.

On sentencing and corrections reform:

  • In the 1990s as First Lady, Clinton called for tougher prison sentences for repeat violent offenders, while lobbying for President Bill Clinton’s 1994 Violent Crime Control Act that increased funding for additional cops and extra prisons and imposed tougher prison sentences.
  • “We need more police, we need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders,” Hillary Clinton said in 1994. “The three strikes and you’re out for violent offenders has to be part of the plan. We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets.”
  • At a town hall in Nevada in August 2015, Hillary Clinton acknowledged that her husband’s policies contributed to mass incarceration. “On the federal level and certainly in states across America, decisions were made in the ’80s and ’90s to deal with what was at that time a very high crime rate that was particularly affecting poor people, people of color in the city. I think that a lot was done that went further than it needed to go, and so now we’re facing problems with mass incarceration.”
  • In October 2015 at a rally in Atlanta, Clinton called for equal treatment in sentencing crack and powdered cocaine drug offenders. “Today, I’m pledging to eliminate the disparity in sentencing still between crack and cocaine, which disproportionality impacts African Americans and puts too many people in prison.”
  • In November 2015 at an event in South Carolina, Clinton said “We want to get rid of the non-violent low-level offenses being a way to go into jail or prison. We think there’s a lot more diversionary work that can be done about that.” She also released parts of her criminal justice reform agenda, including a “safety valve” expansion and reforms to both “strike” sentencing and federal mandatory minimums.

On incarceration rates:

  • In an April 2015 speech on criminal justice reform, Clinton called for an end to mass incarceration. “It’s time to change our approach. It’s time to end the era of mass incarceration. We need a true national debate about how to reduce our prison population while keeping our communities safe.”

On mandatory minimums:

  • In the same April 2015 speech on criminal justice reform, Clinton expressed support for reducing prison terms for drug crimes. “I’ve been encouraged to see changes that I supported as Senator to reduce the unjust federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine crimes finally become law. And last year, the Sentencing Commission reduced recommended prison terms for some drug crimes. President Obama and former Attorney General Holder have led the way with important additional steps. And I am looking forward to our new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, carrying this work forward. There are other measures that I and so many others have championed to reform arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences are long overdue.”
  • In response to an NAACP questionnaire in 2008, Clinton argued that there was a place for mandatory minimums for violent crimes, but said they have been applied “far too broadly and in ways that are simply unfair to minority offenders.”
  • As Senator, Hillary Clinton cosponsored the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007, which would have eliminated mandatory minimum sentencing for first-time crack cocaine possession.

On rehabilitation, treatment programs, and alternatives to prison:

  • In 2007, Hillary Clinton called for expanding diversion programs like drug courts. “Clinton said she supported more mentoring and outreach for jailed offenders, more diversion programs like drug courts, an end to sentencing disparities in drug convictions, and more second-chance programs for ex-offenders. She did not say how she would fund such proposals.”
  • Also in 2007 to a speech to the National Urban League, Hillary Clinton called for “a second chance program” focused on keeping youth out of the criminal justice system. “[W]e have to confront the devastating impact of the criminal justice system. The brutal revolving door has already claimed so many young lives. And I want to have a second change program that really focuses on how we’re going to keep our young people out of the criminal justice system, and how we’re going to rehabilitate then and give them a new chance when they come out.”
  • In her April 2015 criminal justice speech, Clinton expressed support for keeping low-level offenders out of prison through the use of alternatives to prison and mental health programs. “We also need probation and drug diversion programs to deal swiftly with violations, while allowing low-level offenders who stay clean and stay out of trouble to stay out of prison. I’ve seen the positive effects of specialized drug courts and juvenile programs work to the betterment of individuals and communities. And please, please, let us put mental health back at the top of our national agenda.”
  • Also at that rally, Clinton established her support for efforts to “ban the box.” “The ‘ban the box’ movement is giving former prisoners the chance to compete for jobs on a fair basis, delaying background checks on criminal history until later in the hiring process. As president, I will carry this effort forward, I will do what I can inside the federal government and with federal contractors to ‘ban the box.’ We believe in second chances, don’t we?”
  • At the January CNN Democratic town hall, Sec. Clinton said: “We have to move away from treating the use of drugs as a crime and instead, move it to where it belongs, as a health issue. And we need to divert more people from the criminal justice system into drug courts, into treatment, and recovery.

On juvenile justice:

  • In her criminal justice profile on the Huffington Post, Clinton said about her opposition to housing juvenile offenders in adult prisons: “As a young attorney just out of law school, I worked for the Children’s Defense Fund and one of my earliest assignments was investigating the problem of youths being incarcerated in adult jails in South Carolina. Many of the 14- and 15-year-olds I interviewed were in jail for minor transgressions. Some were in jail for serious offenses. But none should have been sharing cells with adults…as President, I will work with states to ensure they meet their requirements under the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.”