Criminal Justice Reform

On Friday, June 15, 2018 President Trump's Campaign Chair was sent to jail until his trial. (1) It is very common in the United States to be in jail between arrest and trial: approximately 536,000 people are in jail, right now, awaiting trial. (2) The vast majority, about 75 percent, of those people are accused of non-violent crimes. (3) A disproportionate percentage of them are Black or Latino, young, and male. (4) Most people are held in pre-trial detention because they can either not raise enough money to cover bail, or do not want to pay usury rates to bail bondsmen. Very few are denied the option to post bail.

The United States has more people in pre-trial detention than are incarcerated in any other country except: Russia and China. This system is a national scandal and should be reformed. We should dramatically scale back demanding bail. We should address the underlying racism in our judicial pipeline.

That being said, Paul Manfort, President Trump's Campaign Chair, should be in jail right now, because he is both a major flight risk and was tampering with witnesses while free on bail. Trump's Campaign Chair posted a $10,000,000 bond to stay out of jail in the first place. That bail was (1) way higher than almost anyone else could pay, but no problem for a man who earned tens of millions undermining democracies around the world for the Russian (2) way too low for someone who is was an obvious flight risk with deep ties for foreign countries. The bail was revoked because he was tampering with witnesses. We simply cannot let people out in society if they are such a large risk to skip the trial and/or will continue to obstruct justice while on the outside.

Criminal justice is a tricky and exciting policy initiative, because it cuts sharply across partisan lines. Key Republican funders, the Koch brothers, support criminal justice reform. As do many progressive leaders. But, it is still a risky policy position insofar as there is still a strong law-and-order contingent in the US. And, the Willy Horton problem: people use single incidents of people committing crimes, who could be in jail, as hammer to scare politicians into keeping hundreds of thousands in jail.

I would not advocate that Democrats make criminal justice reform a key focus of the 2018 election, it is confusing and has mixed support, but it should be a key focus of their 2019 policy initiatives. It is the right thing to do for Americans.