More Calls for Obama Criminal Justice Reforms

Earlier I made some suggestions for President Elect Barack Obama's transition team. One was John Wesley Hall, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), who before getting his own blog, blogged at TalkLeft as Last Night in Little Rock.

John has just released this NACDL Message From the President on Obama's election. Here are some quotes:

[T]here is much work to be done by the new president and the next Congress. The prison camps at Guantanamo Navy Base have become a symbol of shame around the world. President-Elect Obama should close them within hours of taking the oath of office. Those believed responsible for crimes against Americans should be charged and prosecuted in the federal criminal justice system or in traditional military courts under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.


The time has come to address the racism that infects the U.S. criminal justice system. Congress should eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, a reform supported by President-Elect Obama and Vice President-Elect Biden. To further root out racial and ethnic bias within the federal criminal justice system, Congress should pass the Justice Integrity Act, introduced this year by Vice President-Elect Joe Biden, which would mandate the creation of pilot programs in 10 federal districts to evaluate racial and ethnic fairness in the U.S. Attorneys Offices.

These two measures are just the beginning. We will not have a truly color-blind system of justice until our policymakers address the over-incarceration of minorities, racially disproportionate application of the death penalty, racial and ethnic profiling, and the chronic underfunding of indigent defense.

The criminalization of undocumented workers should cease. Mass arrest is not immigration reform; it is an admission that our immigration policies have failed.

This has been the longest presidential election season I have ever seen. We were excited with the election of 1968, but that excitement was lost for Americans until this year. I’m relieved that it is finally over, because now it is time to buckle down and get to work.

With Liberty and Justice for All….
John Wesley Hall

Once again, I recommend John for the Obama transition team. From my earlier post:

A law professor won't do. A prosecutor won't do. Obama should name someone who fights every day in the trenches of our federal courtrooms for equal justice and fairness for the accused.

Obama's appointees, from the Attorney General to federal prosecutors and judges, will be responsible for decisions that deprive tens of thousands of people of liberty during his first presidential term. They deserve a strong advocate, a Champion of Liberty, on his transition team.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Racial/ethnic disparities are obvious to anyone (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by JSN on Wed Nov 05, 2008 at 09:51:03 PM EST
    who has visited juvenile detention centers and adult jails. When the juvenile offenders turn 18 they are promoted to the adult criminal justice system.

    The racial disparities for those held for longer than a week in jail do not appear to differ significantly from the racial disparities in prison. The racial/ethnic disparities depend very strongly on offense type/severity, gender and age.

    What that means is that most of the racial/ethnic disparity already exists when the offenders are booked and any criminal justice system amplification of the disparity operates within the first week of detention. IMHO the prosecution and sentencing policies play a very minor role in the amplification of racial/ethnic disparities (with the exception of plea bargaining).

    School zero tolerance policies have increased the frequency of minority contacts with the juvenile justice system but that is not the sole cause of the observed juvenile racial/ethnic disparities. A high percentage of the juveniles detained have been abused and they have a high incidence of mental illness.

    I think the next administration should devote a lot of resources in trying to reduce the amount of juvenile crime.

    What is needed to bring this to the attention (5.00 / 0) (#3)
    by No Blood for Hubris on Wed Nov 05, 2008 at 10:49:18 PM EST
    of Obama?

    Who has access/knowledge/useful intuition?

    This is the knowledge gap that needs to be overcome, here and now.  Very do-able, I might (and do) add.

    Yup (none / 0) (#1)
    by coigue on Wed Nov 05, 2008 at 09:34:17 PM EST

    "crusader for justice" (none / 0) (#4)
    by diogenes on Thu Nov 06, 2008 at 07:01:54 AM EST
    If this were France, then this would be so.  In the Anglo-Saxon legal system, the Judge and Jury are supposed to be the impartial crusaders for justice.  The US Attorney General is fundamentally should be a just prosecutor who has power to act in the event of rogue injustices in the legal system.  If Obama picks a strong prosecutor as attorney general and wants to have a roving ombudsman in the administration to give him the other side of the story, so be it.  

    While most of the (none / 0) (#5)
    by JamesTX on Thu Nov 06, 2008 at 12:01:17 PM EST
    real comments Obama has made about the criminal justice nightmare relate to racial disparities, I urge that we not let this one issue become the single defining issue of the need for criminal justice reform. That will provide an easy way out for the criminal justice system. The criminal justice machine, faced with pressure to reform their treatment of racial minorities, will simply shift their injustices elsewhere. There will be no real change of the system, only a change in the demographics of the victims.

    The current criminal justice system is based on a misguided ideological belief system about crime and punishment which needs to be deconstructed, dismantled and re-conceptualized. The myths that were propagated by the Reagan revolution were thinly disguised racial and ethnic cleansing measures focused on encouraging the public to believe certain basic things about crime that are not true. Among those beliefs is the idea that criminal behavior is based in some kind of deep and immutable personal characteristic -- some even suggesting genetics. The resulting system was built around using all resources available to keep people in the criminal justice system for life rather than finding new ways to understand the problem and reintegrate those who brush with the law back into productive social roles. This has all been presented to the public as a means to permanently and irreversibly segregate the population into those who have and have not ever been charged with a crime. The underlying message is that those who have never been snagged by the criminal justice system should have the right to live their lives without ever encountering or interacting with anyone who has been charged with a crime. That idea is absolutely not practical, and it is time that it is rethought.