US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has called for overhauling America’s “out of balance” criminal justice system, stressing on the need to end era of “mass incarceration” amid continued tensions over the deaths of young black men at the hands of police officers.
“We have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance. And these recent tragedies should galvanize us to come together as a nation to find our balance again,” Clinton said here, referring to incidents of deaths of black men from Ferguson to Baltimore.
Clinton, addressing faculty and students at Columbia University yesterday, said the “inequities” that persist in the US justice system undermine a shared vision of what “America can be and should be”.
Clinton listed the recent incidents that sparked tensions with the police, including the killing of Eric Garner, choked to death after being stopped for selling cigarettes in the city, shooting of unarmed Walter Scott in the back in Charleston.
“And, from Ferguson to Staten Island to Baltimore, the patterns have become unmistakable and undeniable,” she said during one of her first significant speeches on the issue after announcing her bid for president.
She added that the nation has to come to terms with some “hard truths about race and justice in America.”
Making a strong case for reforms in the criminal justice system, Clinton said there was a need for “fresh thinking” and “bold action” from all sides.
“We need to deliver real reforms that can be felt on our streets, in our courthouses, and our jails and prisons, in communities too long neglected. First, we need smart strategies to fight crime that help restore trust between law enforcement and our communities, especially communities of colour,” she said.
Clinton called for ensuring that every police department in the country has body cameras to record interactions between officers on patrol and suspects, describing it as a “commonsense” measure.
She said of the more than two million Americans incarcerated today, a significant percentage are low-level offenders – people held for violating parole or minor drug crimes, or who are simply awaiting trial in backlogged courts.
“Without the mass incarceration that we currently practice, millions fewer people would be living in poverty.
Keeping them behind bars does little to reduce crime. But it is does a lot to tear apart families and communities,” she said.
Clinton added that if the United States brought its correctional expenditures back in line with where they were several decades ago, it will save an estimated USD 28 billion a year.
“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,” she said.
Overhauling the criminal justice system needs to go hand in hand with correcting the inequality among communities, she said.