THE PEOPLE’S JUSTICEGUARANTEE AGENDAIS POPULAREmily Galvin-Almanza, Senior Legal Counsel, Justice CollaborativeSean McElwee, Executive Director, Data for ProgressNovember 2019
This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the signing of the ViolentCrime Control and Law EnforcementAct of 1994, also known as the 1994crime bill. On the anniversary of thislegislation, which has become famous1for the damage it has done to communities of color and low-income peoplein America, Congresswoman AyannaPressley released the People’s JusticeGuarantee.The People’s Justice Guarantee is a comprehensive plan for the federal government totake the lead in rebuilding the criminal legalsystem so that it is smaller, safer, less punitive, and more humane. The People’s JusticeGuarantee has three main components:1. To make America more free by dramatically reducing jail and prisonpopulations2. To make America more equal by eliminating wealth-based discriminationand corporate profiteering3. To make America more secure byinvesting in the communities mostdestabilized by the failed policies ofmass incarceration Incarceration is a uniquely American crisis, but it does not operate in a vacuum. Itcycles with poverty, undercutting the economic mobility of vulnerable communitiesand making America less prosperous asa whole. It does not impact all Americansequally, focusing harm on people of colorpeople, who collectively make up 27 percentof America’s population2 but 65 percent ofprisoners.3 These components work togetherto not simply reduce the use of prison. Theylook beyond prison walls to ensure community reintegration and foster thriving locallife, and thereby offer all Americans a safer,brighter future.Dramatically Reduce Jail andPrison PopulationsIncarceration is one of our least-effectivemethods for controlling crime and keepingour communities safe.4 Nonetheless, our jailsand prisons are clogged with people for whomincarceration is, at best, counterproductive.Recently, a man spent more than a thousanddays locked up on Rikers Island without atrial, including two years of solitary confinement during which he attempted suicidemultiple times—all for allegedly stealing abackpack.5Figure 1The People’s Justice Guarantee Agenda is Popular /// 1
This is a problem the People’s JusticeGuarantee seeks to fix.The plan decriminalizes not only sex work butalso low-level offenses clearly occurring as aresult of poverty, homelessness, and addiction. It also dramatically increases opportunities for access to restorative diversionprograms. It ends policies that have dramatically inflated our prison population, such as“truth-in-sentencing” laws that deny peoplethe right to early release, and zero-tolerancepolicies in schools that have created a pipeline into the prison system for minority youth.It also takes a more realistic approach to howmuch punishment is necessary. Figure 2 Figure 3America dramatically overincarcerates, inpart, because American sentence lengths aresubstantially out of step with internationalnorms.6 The People’s Justice Guarantee wouldend the death penalty but also reduce the riskof long sentences creating a de facto form of“death by incarceration.”By capping prison sentences for folks whodid not cause serious physical harm, endingmandatory minimums, reinstating parole,ending the crack/cocaine sentencing disparity, banning juvenile life sentences, andopening up opportunities for compassionaterelease, the plan pulls criminal sentencingback and prevents people from being lockedup for years longer than necessary.The People’s Justice Guarantee Agenda is Popular /// 2
Figure 4Getting people home faster is only half thepicture: we need to get people home better.This means eliminating ways in which incarceration becomes criminogenic, breakingpeople spiritually and psychologically andleaving them worse off than when they wentin.In order to help people survive incarceration,the plan ends solitary confinement, keepspeople closer to home and expands visitation, allows trans people to be housed withtheir gender identity, provides high-qualitymental and physical health care (includingsubstance-use therapy and mental healthtreatment), and increases vocational andeducational access while ending the use offorced labor. It restores the voice of the peopleclosest to the problem by creating opportunities for abuses to be litigated and heard in thelegal system. Simple things like better foodand maintaining comfortable temperaturesinside facilities are absolutely essential tocreating a space where people can get welland change their lives.After all, prison doesn’t have to be aboutdestruction: it can and should move toward asystem of restoration and recovery instead ofa bureaucracy built on pointless punishment.Eliminate Wealth-BasedDiscrimination and CorporateProfiteeringRestorative opportunities shouldn’t be available only to the wealthy, and allowing anyentity to profit off of a system built on suffering is contrary to the values of a free society.When you condition liberty on payment, youcreate a world in which poverty itself is aprison. As of 2017, the Sanilac County Jail inMichigan charged incarcerated individuals 8.20 for the first minute of a phone call. Farfrom an outlier, at least seven other Michiganjails charged over 20 for a fifteen-minutephone call.7 These charges are not just appalling, but counterproductive: connection to thecommunity at home is one of the most effective ways of lowering recidivism.The People’s Justice Guarantee begins byprohibiting private companies from profitingoff incarceration or detention, and pushing resources toward access to education,employment, civic engagement, and housingfor formerly incarcerated people instead.But beyond large-scale reforms, it focuseson the financial burdens on individuals andfamilies. It removes the criminogenic impactof economic incarceration—when people areThe People’s Justice Guarantee Agenda is Popular /// 3
saddled with debts their lives depend on butwhich they’ll never be able to pay, they’remore likely to engage in misconduct, trying tofind a way out. The People’s Justice Guaranteetakes unfair debt burdens off of people in poverty by ending the use of money bail, stoppingthe practice of charging people for their ownsupervision, ensures that courts only imposefines and fees on those with the ability to pay,and bans incarceration for debt alone.These changes won’t last if we don’t ensurethat the people closest to the problem retaintheir ability to participate and be heard. ThePeople’s Justice Guarantee ensures that thosewithout resources are still afforded a robustvoice in the systems that control their liberty. Investing in public defenders ensures Figure 5 Figure 6that every person facing the system has achance to be the master of their own narrative in court. On a national level, the People’sJustice Guarantee ends prison gerrymandering and ensures the right to vote for allcitizens, restoring civic enfranchisement tothe millions silenced by current or formerincarceration.Investing in ImpactedCommunitiesPulling people out of prison isn’t enough: wehave to ensure that people are able to succeed once they’re home. This isn’t merelyabout better supervision or treatment programs. It’s about real investment in people,The People’s Justice Guarantee Agenda is Popular /// 4
Figure 7neighborhoods, cities, and schools. After all,the best “alternative to incarceration” isn’tan anger management program—it’s a job, ahome, and a healthy family.enforcement agents, and bans programs thatdestroy community trust, such as official protection from prosecution, civil-asset forfeiture, and facial-analytic technology.The People’s Justice Guarantee creates comprehensive health care for every American,invests in modernizing and expanding housing, funding rent control and assistanceprograms, and ties the minimum wage toour current economic realities to ensurethat workers can live and thrive rather thanstruggle to survive. It expands employmentopportunities, combats employment discrimination, and compensates people for nontraditional work like childcare and family caregiving. It invests especially in communitiesthat have been traditionally under-resourced,finally offering reparations to the descendants of enslaved people and providing morerobust support to crime survivors.As we step away from a military police force,we must reimagine what policing should looklike in America.The ability to thrive is not merely a questionof resources, it’s also a question of environment. People cannot thrive in a communitywhere policing looks more like militaryoccupation than community engagement.The People’s Justice Guarantee thereforestops the transfer of military equipment tolocal police, limits firearm production andsales, stops using local police as immigrationThe People’s Justice Guarantee envisionspolicing as community oriented and focusedon reducing harm rather than boosting numbers. It requires that law enforcement prioritize the most serious crimes and increasesolve rates for homicide and sexual assault. Itcreates first-responder agencies and partnerships that are designed to intervene peacefully in crises arising from substance use,mental illness, and poverty. It fosters community-led programs to end violence and recoverfrom trauma, and also promotes civilian oversight of police misconduct.In this way, too, it recognizes that changecomes from the people rather than the forceof the state, and promotes the power of communities to bring about a better world.The People’s Justice Guarantee Agenda is Popular /// 5
Polling on the People’s JusticeGuarantee “Considering crimes”: Prevent judges fromconsidering crimes that a jury has acquitted theperson of in sentencing decisionsIn order to understand the current levelof popular support for these policies, wegathered each component’s key proposalsand conducted a poll on over a thousandself-identified registered voters with YouGov.On behalf of Data for Progress, YouGovBlue fielded a survey on a sample of 1,006self-identified registered voters usingYouGov’s online panel from September 13through September 16, 2019. “New investments”: Provide new government investments in restoring and revitalizingcommunities disproportionately affected by thewar on drugs and mass incarceration, particularly Black and Latino urban neighborhoods “Calls and visits”: Provide incarceratedpeople with free phone calls and guaranteedin-person visitation rights “New first responders”: Create a newagency of first-responders, like emergency medical services or firefighters, to deal with issuesrelated to addiction or mental illness that needto be remedied but do not need police. “Educational and vocational training”:Provide educational and vocational training toall people who are incarcerated to better prepare them for success when they return to theircommunities. “Civil violations”: Instruct prosecutors totreat low-level offenses, like shoplifting, as civilviolations. This would categorize such offensessimilarly to those like traffic violations asopposed to criminal matters. “Cap sentences”: Cap sentences at 5 yearsfor offenses that do not cause serious physicalharm “End mandatory minimums”: End mandatory minimum sentencing. This would allowjudges more discretion in determining thelength of prison sentences. “Petition judges”: Provide an opportunityto petition a judge for release after serving 15years for any crime “End death penalty”: End the death penalty “End solitary confinement”: End solitaryconfinement, the practice of isolating incarcerated people in cells for 22-24 hours a day forperiods of time ranging from days to decadesThe sample was weighted to be representative of the population of US voters by gender,age, race/ethnicity, education, Census region,and 2016 presidential vote choice. This survey included a battery of questions aroundcriminal justice reforms, which we discuss inthis memo.TOPLINE RESULTSIn this survey, we asked respondents to consider several potential reforms to the UScriminal justice system.Those items read:Recently, some have proposed a variety of ways toreform the criminal justice system. Please indicatewhether you would [support or oppose] the following proposed reforms. A reform to “Addiction and health treatment”:Provide addiction and mental health treatment, which includes overdose medication, toall people who need it, including people who arecurrently incarcerated“Inform juries”: Inform the jury beforedeliberations of the minimum and maximumsentence the defendant would face under a conviction on each potential chargeThe People’s Justice Guarantee Agenda is Popular /// 6
“End cash bail”: End cash bail and replaceit with a system that allows pretrial detentiononly when a person presents a serious safetyrisk to the community “End fines and fees”: End the impositionof fines and fees in the criminal justice systemexcept for situations where the person has theclear ability to pay “End past felony discrimination”: Outlawdiscrimination based on felony record in acessto housing, education, social services, andemploymentThe following chart (Figure 8) shows thetopline results across the full sample. Eachrow of the chart represents responses foreach item, with the blue bars representingsupport for the position, red bars representing opposition, and the gray representingrespondents who reported they were unsurehow they felt about the policy.For example, 86 percent of respondentseither strongly or somewhat support an“Educational training” policy, with only 8 percent opposed.Respondents were statistically tied on the“Petition judges” item, with about 40 percentof respondents supporting the proposal and43 percent opposing it. In line with muchprevious work on this subject, we find voterscontinue to oppose ending the death penalty.Here 36 percent of voters supported endingthe death penalty, and 52 percent of votersopposed ending the death penalty. Comparedto some other policy domains, the share ofrespondents who report “Not sure” is relatively low, as we might expect given therelative salience of the death penalty debatecompared to lesser-known criminal justiceissues.Over 50 percent of respondents support morethan half the items, and many were overwhelmingly popular. Figure 8The People’s Justice Guarantee Agenda is Popular /// 7
housing, education, social services, andemployment.Topline Results by PartyIdentificationFigure 9 shows the topline results for eachpolicy item broken out by party identification.As one might expect, partisanship plays animportant role in predicting attitudes towardcriminal justice reform. But even accountingfor the effects of partisanship, there are a couple of items that are not as highly polarized asone would expect.The most polarizing policies in our surveypertained to the financial repercussions ofincarceration. For example: When asked about ending cash bail, 73 ofDemocrats support this proposal, while 52percent of independents, and 41 percentof Republicans do so. Sixty-seven percent of Democrats, 41 percent of independents, and 32 percent ofRepublicans responded that they supportending the imposition of fines and fees. Sixty-one percent of Democrats, 42percent of independents, and 33 ofRepublicans support providing incarcerated people with free phone calls andguaranteed in-person visitation rights. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats, 55percent of independents, and 41 percentof Republicans support providing newgovernment investment in communities that have been disproportionatelyaffected by the war on drugs and massincarceration.Opinions on items related to discriminationand human dignity are also polarized alongparty lines: Seventy-four percent of Democrats,49 percent of independents, and 43 ofRepublicans support outlawing discrimination based on felony record in acess to Fifty-five percent of Democrats, 30 percent of independents, and 18 percent ofRepublicans support ending the deathpenalty. Of the policies we polled, thisone received the most Republican opposition—75 percent of Republicans opposeending the death penalty, while only 30percent of Democrats oppose it. Forty-seven percent of Democrats, 45of independents, and 40 percent ofRepublicans either strongly or somewhatsupport ending solitary confinement.Two policies in particular enjoyed overwhelming support across the partisan divide.The “educational and vocational training”item enjoyed support from 90 percent ofDemocrats, 85 percent of independents,and 84 percent of Republicans. Second, 86percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents, and 66 percent of Republicansexpressed support for the “addiction andhealth treatment” item.The following plot breaks out support forall of the policies we polled by respondents’ party identification. Even amongRepublicans, policies like the educational andvocational training and a new first-responderagency enjoyed high levels of support.Perhaps unsurprisingly, as criminal justice reform has been one of the few areas tomake bipartisan progress in the most recentCongress, there is clear support for suchreforms across party lines.Topline results by geographySeveral of the policies we included in oursurvey have implications for the opioid crisis,which many view as having particular consequences for rural Americans. Given this, wemight especially expect to see higher supportThe People’s Justice Guarantee Agenda is Popular /// 8
Figure 9The People’s Justice Guarantee Agenda is Popular /// 9
Figure 10The People’s Justice Guarantee Agenda is Popular /// 10
in rural areas for reforms such as expandingaddiction treatment and reclassifying lowlevel offenses as civil violations. To investigate, we graphed support by the type of placevoters live—cities, suburbs, towns, and ruralareas (Figure 10).The same general patterns can be found inthis analysis: most of the items polled hadhigh levels of support across the urban/suburban/rural divide. We see strong supportacross the board for providing educationaland vocational training opportunities, andthere were higher levels of opposition toending the death penalty than any other itempolled across type of place. Some of the itemsare also polarized in this breakout.This survey included a battery of questions aroundcriminal justice reforms like those discussed in thismemo.This survey is based on 1,006 interviews conductedby YouGov on the internet of self-identified registered voters. The sample was weighted accordingto gender, age, race, education, Census region, and2016 presidential vote choice. Respondents wereselected from YouGov’s panel to be representative ofregistered voters. The weights range from 0.1 to 5.9,with a mean of 1 and a standard deviation of 0.5.CONCLUSIONIn past eras of American politics, the“tough on crime” position was vitalto the political survival of many innational politics.Now, we see clear (and sometimesbipartisan) support for commonsensecriminal justice reforms. Our resultssuggest that the era of “tough oncrime” may be ending—Americans areopen to reforms of the criminal justicesystem.METHODS STATEMENTOn behalf of Data for Progress, YouGov Blue fieldeda survey on a sample of 1,006 self-identified registered voters using YouGov’s online panel fromSeptember 13 through September 16, 2019. Thesample was weighted to be representative of thepopulation of US voters by gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, Census region, and 2016 presidential vote choice.The People’s Justice Guarantee Agenda is Popular /// 11
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take the lead in rebuilding the criminal legal system so that it is smaller, safer, less puni-tive, and more humane. The People’s Justice Guarantee has three main components: 1. To make America more free by dra-matically reducing jail and prison populations 2. To make America more equal by elim-inating wealth-based discrimination and corporate profiteering 3. To make America more secure by .
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