Our values: Security, safety, protection, justice
Our vision: The most fundamental job of government is to protect its citizens from crime. Progressive government focuses on strategies that make us safer, and serious felonies require serious punishment. But there is a great deal that can be done to prevent crime while ensuring justice: (1) reform police procedures, including interrogations and use of force, that lead authorities toward the wrong suspects; (2) reform judicial procedures that hurt the innocent, thereby helping the guilty; (3) reform prison procedures that increase recidivism; and (4) reform criminal laws to prevent the commission of crimes.
With the advent of DNA evidence, it has become clear that many innocent people have been prosecuted and imprisoned. Part of the problem is old-fashioned procedures—an overconfidence in unreliable eyewitnesses and an over-reliance on profiling. Progressive states and localities must adopt fairer and more accurate practices. The most common element in convictions overturned by DNA evidence has been eyewitness misidentification. This is why police need to reform procedures for lineup identifications. In addition, we should require electronic recording of all interrogations, attach cameras to police cars and uniforms, have clear rules against racial profiling and military weaponry, and limit the use of force.
Tough court procedures don’t necessarily make law-abiding citizens any safer, and can in fact have the opposite effect. A progressive government pursues bail reform, sentencing reform and juvenile justice reform to make it less likely that minor offenders turn into hardened criminals. Similarly, expungement of minor arrest or conviction records can also help prevent recidivism.
The U.S. prison population has exploded from about 300,000 prisoners in 1980 to about 1.5 million today. Another 750,000 are in local jails or juvenile detention. Twenty-seven states employ private prisons on the theory that they’re cheaper, but there is no legitimate evidence to prove it. At the same time, private prisons seek healthier prisoners because they are less expensive to house, and shy away from providing education and training programs in order to maximize profits. Prison privatization should be banned, or, where that’s not immediately possible, more strictly regulated.
The 1980s and 1990s “War on Drugs” took much discretion away from judges and enormously increased the length of sentences. Yet, research proves that treatment, rather than incarceration, is the most effective tactic to fight drug abuse. Diverting nonviolent drug offenders to treatment programs reduces recidivism and saves money. Similarly, mandatory minimum sentences should be relaxed so that judges can deliver real justice based on the actual circumstances of each case. While these “get tough” measures have been ineffective, real danger has come from the nearly unchecked proliferation of guns. Every single day, dozens of Americans are murdered, hundreds are shot, and nearly one thousand are robbed or assaulted with a gun. It’s just common sense to require a background check for all gun sales, preferably including fingerprinting and safety training, as well as to ban non-sporting equipment such as assault weapons, multiburst triggers and 3D printed guns.
FEATURED POLICIES FOR 2021
More than 8,000 local police forces have received more than $5 billion in military equipment from the federal government. Local police now routinely use automatic weapons and heavily armored military vehicles, flash-bang grenades and night-vision rifle scopes. State and local governments should curtail this militarization. Every official should find out if their law enforcement agencies own military equipment and if so, whether police really need it. Jurisdictions should ban such weaponry or at least set up strict procedures to ensure proper oversight for the acquisition and possession of military equipment.
When law enforcement officers use neck restraints, it constitutes the use of lethal and excessive force which presents an unnecessary danger to the public. The Neck Restraint Prohibition Act prevents the police from using the kind of neck restraints that led to the deaths of George Floyd, Elijah McClain and many others.
In an effort to emphasize toughness on crime and drugs, the Nixon Administration encouraged the use of no-knock search warrants, and the Reagan Administration greatly increased their use. Data shows that, while such warrants were employed only about 1,500 times annually in the early 1980s, there are now about 60-70,000 such raids per year, mostly looking for marijuana. This is a dangerous policy, especially when so many civilians own guns and “stand your ground” laws encourage their use. The No-Knock Search Warrant Prohibition Act, inspired by the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, will save innocent lives.
Every year, hundreds of innocent Americans are convicted of crimes because of false confessions. Thousands more are arrested because of false confessions and later the charges are dropped. There are many reasons why innocent people “confess,” ranging from exhaustion to mental illness. Electronic recording of interrogations helps to protect the innocent and convict the guilty. Ten states and many cities and counties now require electronic recording of interrogations. In fact, then-State Senator Barack Obama sponsored the first state law requiring electronic recording of interrogations in 2003.
Federal law requires that no gun can be sold by a licensed gun dealer without a criminal background check. But millions of guns are sold by unlicensed sellers at gun shows and through Internet sites with no background check. This is dangerous and absurd. Every state should require criminal background checks for all gun transfers. It’s just common sense.
Automatically seal certain criminal convictions
States commonly have processes for the expungement of certain types of criminal records, but the vast majority of people who qualify never do it because it’s complicated and often costly. Pennsylvania became the first state to begin automatically sealing eligible criminal records so they don’t adversely affect people’s chances for housing, employment and educational opportunities.
Restrict criminal forfeiture
Many law enforcement agencies have abused the civil asset forfeiture process, which has allowed police to seize, and too often keep or sell, property they claim was involved in a crime. Often property owners are not even arrested, much less convicted of a crime, but their cash, vehicles and other property are seized and never returned. The Institute for Justice model law eliminates civil forfeiture and replaces it with criminal forfeiture, which limits police authority to keep property to situations where assets were derived directly from or used in crime and a criminal conviction occurs.
Ban stun cuffs
A stun cuff is a small box strapped to a prisoner (usually at the ankle) which, when police press a remote controlled trigger, emits a 50,000-volt shock that immobilizes the wearer. This device is good for little more than torture as prisoners can already be fully controlled with the use of handcuffs and leg irons. Stun cuffs should be banned.
Raise the dollar threshold for felonies
Laws differentiate felony theft from misdemeanor theft based on the value of the property stolen. Due to inflation, over the years, less and less value is required to trigger a felony. In effect, defendants are treated more harshly over time. An unnecessarily high felony threshold strains prosecutorial, judicial and correctional resources. The Felony Threshold Reform Act eases the strain so more resources can be aimed at serious offenders.
Reform the juvenile justice system
Our juvenile justice system should focus on diverting young offenders from future crimes, which makes all law-abiding residents safer. Yet, the systems in many states are based on old, discredited ideas. The Juvenile Justice Reform Act combines three urgent reforms. It restricts the use of pretrial confinement to young offenders who pose a real flight risk or danger to society. It limits the transfer of defendants from juvenile to adult courts. And it protects children in court proceedings by ensuring that they do not waive their constitutional right to counsel.
Test all rape kits
Every year, nearly two million women are sexually assaulted, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly one in five American women are raped at some point in their lives. When an assault is reported, DNA evidence is usually collected in a “rape kit” to help identify the assailant. Yet, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of DNA samples sit untested in police departments and crime labs. Several states and localities have enacted legislation to end the backlog and test all rape kits.
Cameras on police cars or uniforms
Fatal police shootings in cities across the country have prompted new calls for police to monitor themselves with video cameras. The use of police cruiser-mounted cameras is becoming widespread, and there are also “body cameras” which attach to officers’ uniform lapels. The idea behind this technology is that both police officers and criminal suspects are less likely to misbehave if they know they’re being recorded. In a study by Cambridge University, the Rialto, California, police saw an 89 percent decline in the number of complaints against officers during a yearlong test use of body cameras. The number of times police used force against suspects also declined.