Reforming Criminal Justice

America was founded on the core principle of justice. For the criminal justice system to work, justice needs to be available to everyone. Unfortunately, nowadays justice can be bought; wealthier people face lighter sentences for the same crimes and see lower rates of arrest. Even worse, the government is wasting billions of dollars on inefficient systems that fail to make our communities any safer. The “War on Drugs” has proved to be a failure; drug addiction rates have stayed relatively constant at 1.3% despite the government spending $800 billion dollars.

It’s time to reform the system to actually prevent crime, improve our communities, and make the best use of the taxpayer’s money. We need to fight to ensure that the criminal justice system represents everyone equally, regardless of race or income.

Monetary Bail

The monetary bail system in the U.S. targets poor Americans. The harsh reality is that wealthy individuals are allowed to purchase their freedom, regardless of their danger to society, while middle and low income citizens remain in jail. Too often innocent Americans are removed from their jobs, families, and communities and forced to sit in jail to await their trial. This has devastating efforts for the individual; detention can cause them loss of wages and even their employment. A vicious cycle is then created: pretrial detention hurts the individual economically, which dampens their ability to get proper legal counsel, which increases the chance of receiving a harsher sentence.

The monetary bail system is also expensive to the state. According to a study, roughly 450,000 people are detained before trial at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $38 million per day. Most of these people are low risk, with many whose charges will eventually be dropped. It makes no sense to spend this much money on people who are not a risk to our communities. If elected, I will go to Congress and present a bill to establish a risk based pretrial system, to ensure that our already overcrowded jails are not filled with poor and innocent citizens.

Capital Punishment

Benjamin Franklin once that that “it is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer”. On that regard, our founding father would be ashamed of our current death penalty policies. A study estimates that 1 in every 25 people are sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. Ruben Cantu was 17 years old when he was charged with capital murder following a shooting death in an attempted robbery. He was executed in 1993, despite he consistent claims on innocence. Following the case, the key eyewitness said that Cantu was innocent and that he only identified him because of police pressure. The forewoman of the jury and even the prosecutor believe that they put an innocent man to death. Since 1989, there have been nine doubtful cases involving the death penalty in Texas alone.

Even if we ignore the state-sanctioned murders of innocent Americans, the death penalty is not effective and a waste of money. Studies have shown that it does not work as a successful deterrence; states with the death penalty even have higher murder rates than states without it. If it is not working, why would we continue to pay an estimated 3 times more for a death penalty case? I would go to Congress and work on abolishing this outdated style of punishment

These are just a couple of the initiatives I wanted to highlight in this week's Sunday Issue. The fact of the matter is that there is so much we can and should do to fix our broken criminal justice system. We need to start somewhere, and it is my hope that for these couple points, we can find common ground on both sides of the aisle to implement meaningful change for Ohio and the country.

Janet GarrettComment