With tensions still simmering on the streets of Baltimore and a national movement against a discriminatory U.S. justice system continuing to build, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton made a strong statement Wednesday morning vowing to bring to an end the “era of mass incarceration.”
“We don’t want to create another incarceration generation,” said the former Secretary of State during her keynote speech at the 18th Annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum at Columbia University. “We need a true national debate about how to reduce our prison population while keeping our communities safe.”
In the first major address since announcing her presidential bid, Clinton took a strong stand against policies put into place by her husband, former President Bill Clinton—policies that she herself supported in the 1990s when she called for tougher prison sentences and “more prisons.”
While Clinton’s time on the campaign trail has thus far been bereft of any substantive press statement, her comments Wednesday mark one of the first indications of a platform she may put forth as candidate.
Acknowledging that she doesn’t “know all the answers,” Clinton listed a number of potential reforms including: alternative punishments for low level offenders; “probation and drug diversion programs to deal ‘swiftly’ with violations while letting low level offenders stay out of prison;” as well as specialized drug courts and juvenile programs.
Further, Clinton applauded efforts by President Barack Obama and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to amend the “unjust” sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine charges and reduce prison terms for some drug crimes.
And, Clinton added emphatically, “please let us put mental health back on the top of our national agenda.” Describing the failure of governments to create community-based treatment centers after the widespread closure of mental health facilities, she said, “Our prisons and our jails are now our mental health institutions.”
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Her comments come as a national spotlight has been put on the United States’ policing and incarceration policies that for years have targeted young men of color, which critics say has created a permanent “underclass” in American society.
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