Justice Update: Crime & Justice Reform a Hot Topic in First Presidential Debate

September 28, 2016

Crime Rate Steady as National Conversation about Crime, Policing Continues

Crime and policing in America were a main topic of discussion as presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump faced off for the first time Monday night. Their conversation came the same day the FBI released its 2015 Uniform Crime Report numbers, and a week after the Brennan Center released a new analysis that takes an initial look at crime in 2016.

“We have to restore trust between communities and the police,” Clinton said during the debate.

“We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African-Americans, Hispanics are living in Hell because it’s so dangerous,” Trump said. “You walk down the street, you get shot.”

Anyone watching the debate “might think we’re losing the war on crime,” wrote Natasha Camhi and Ames Grawert for TIME.

“It’s a scary notion. But it’s simply not true.”

The new Brennan Center report shows crime rates this year are expected to be about the same as in 2015, close to all-time lows. Murder is predicted to increase in some cities, with Chicago alone accounting for nearly half of the 13.1 percent rise in the murder rate.

“These findings undercut media reports referring to crime as ‘out of control,’ or heralding a new nationwide crime wave,” authors GrawertMatthew Friedman, and James Cullen wrote. “But the data do call attention to specific cities, especially Chicago, and an urgent need to address violence there.”

A Brennan Center analysis of the FBI’s 2015 numbers on Monday revealed similar trends. It found the overall crime rate last year dropped by 2.6 percent, while the murder rate rose by 10 percent. Just four cities — Baltimore, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C. — accounted for 20 percent of the murder increase. A Brennan Center report on crime in the 30 largest cities in 2015, released in April, paralleled the FBI’s findings.   

Trump raised “stop and frisk” as one possible remedy to combat crime. However, a Brennan Center analysis found New York’s stop and frisk program was not a major factor in the city’s crime decline.

No matter who is elected this November, America needs a plan to confront the broader problems affecting justice in our country, Camhi and Grawert concluded. They outlined several ideas for both candidates to consider, including using federal funding to incentivize states to reduce imprisonment and working to restore public trust between law enforcement and communities.

Read more coverage of the Brennan Center’s crime work in the Associated PressNew York TimesWashington PostNPRNBC NewsTIME, and Wall Street Journal. For a full list of coverage, visit the Brennan Center’s website.

Rethinking Incarceration: Summer Steps Forward

The Justice Department announced plans last month to gradually phase out the use of private prisons. The move was welcome news to many trying to reduce incarceration rates in America.

“Advocacy organizations, such as the Brennan Center, have raised concern over the perverse financial incentives created by contracts with privately operated prisons that may fuel rising incarceration rates,” wrote Grainne Dunne. “Labor groups have also cited issues with working conditions and pay in private facilities.”

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers like Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) hailed the decision as “an important first step” but added that more should be done.

The decision comes on the heels of another piece of good news for prison reform advocates. The Washington Post reported in August that the rate of black imprisonment “hasn’t been this low in a generation.” But, as James Cullen wrote, there is still more work to do.

“While any progress is welcome, the ‘juggernaut’ of racial bias has yet to be vanquished,” he said. “Even if current policies are helping, they do not offer a blueprint for the bold change needed to end mass incarceration.”

It will take, he said, a “profound paradigm shift.”

The Brennan Center’s Reverse Mass Incarceration Act outlines one way forward.


Research Roundup

  • A recent report  by the Vera Institute of Justice looked at racial disparities in marijuana enforcement in New Orleans. The city has passed a number of reforms in recent years, including an ordinance enacted this spring reducing penalties for marijuana possession, to both address racial disparities in arrest rates and cut the city jail population. The report concluded this was a positive step, but more reform is needed.
  • A new survey, conducted by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, examines the attitudes and beliefs of crime victims on criminal justice policies. It found that crime victims overwhelmingly prefer criminal justice approaches that prioritize rehabilitation over punishment, and support investments in crime prevention and treatment.
  • The Center for American Progress released a report last month examining the impact of the criminal justice system on people with disabilities. It noted that those with disabilities are dramatically overrepresented in our prisons and jails, and set out recommendations including increasing diversion of people with disabilities away from the criminal justice system and into community-based treatment.