The 2017 Elections Show Criminal Justice Reform Can Be a Winning Issue

On Election Day 2017, candidates in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Virginia, and New York won on platforms that proactively embraced criminal justice reform or rejected fear-mongering attempts by opponents to label them as soft-on-crime.

Their victories send a strong signal to politicians running in 2018 elections that they do not need to hide from supporting issues like bail and sentencing reform, ending the death penalty, and restoring the rights of people living with a criminal record. They also represent the continuation of a shifting narrative that rejects the old tough-on-crime politics for a new approach that is rooted in civil rights and redefining community safety.

Philadelphia

By far the biggest criminal justice reform victory came with the election of Larry Krasner as Philadelphia’s next district attorney. Until 2010, Philadelphia had a district attorney known as America’s “Deadliest D.A.” for her robust support of the death penalty. Yet seven years later, Philadelphians elected a candidate likely to become America’s most progressive prosecutor.

Krasner, a civil rights lawyer who has never been a prosecutor and who wears as a badge of honor the fact that he has sued the police 75 times, won on a platform centered on criminal justice reform and ending mass incarceration. He has often spoken about the need for transformational changes in the city’s criminal justice system, and during his victory party, he spoke of the need to reform a system that has “systematically picked on black and brown people.” He has committed to ending the death penalty, ending cash bail, and fighting mass incarceration. The police unions in Philadelphia opposed Krasner’s election, mocking it as “hilarious.”

The issue of ending mass incarceration became a priority in the race because of the work of a coalition of local and national criminal justice and civil rights organizations including the Philadelphia Coalition for a Just District Attorney, Color of Change, Safety and Justice PAC, and the Working Families Party. The ACLU hired 51 canvassers who are formerly incarcerated to knock on 26,000 doors to ask our members, in a non-partisan way, to vote for a district attorney candidate committed to ending mass incarceration.

New Jersey

New Jersey’s race for governor was in many ways a referendum on marijuana legalization and on addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Phil Murphy came out in support of marijuana legalization early on in his campaign, and he consistently framed the issue not just as a financial boost for the state but one of racial justice. New Jersey leads the nation in reducing its incarcerated population, seeing a 35 percent drop in its prison population in the past 18 years, but New Jersey also leads the nation when it comes to racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Black residents are 12 times more likely to be incarcerated as white residents.

Phil Murphy committed to addressing these disparities, and often cited the ACLU of New Jersey’s report finding widespread racial disparities in marijuana arrests in New Jersey. He spoke of the “structural racism in our criminal justice system” and of the need to fight against the for-profit prison industry. His platform included reforming mandatory minimum laws and fully implementing New Jersey’s historic bail reform law.

Murphy’s opponent, Kim Guadagno, on the other hand, ran on a platform that exploited people's concerns about public safety to pander to nativist anti-immigrant sentiment. She tried to label Murphy as soft-on-crime, using Willie Horton style attacks adsa reference to the infamous 1988 presidential campaign commercial critical of a prison-furlough program supported by Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis. New Jersey voters rejected Guadagno's candidacy and elected Murphy instead.

Virginia

In Virginia, the race for governor turned into a referendum on President Trump’s supposedly tough-on-crime but destructive political playbook. Ed Gillespie defined his campaign by trying to paint his opponent as soft on gangs and criticized Gov. Terry McAuliffe for restoring the right to vote for thousands of state residents living with a criminal record. President Trump supported Gillespie and tweeted that his opponent, Ralph Northam, will “allow crime to be rampant in Virginia,” whereas under Gillespie, “MS-13 and crime will be gone.” Virginia voters didn't fall for it. Northam won.

In a lower profile race, Stephanie Morales won re-election as district attorney in Portsmouth City despite having convicted a white police officer in the killing of a Black teenager. She ran on a platform of police accountability and fighting mass incarceration and cash bail.

New York

In Nassau County, New York, Laura Curran won the race for county executive, despite racist attempts by her opponent to paint her as soft-on-crime. A mailer sent to Nassau voters in support of her opponent Jack Martins featured shirtless Latino men covered in tattoos with the text that Laura Curran is “MS-13’s choice for county executive.” The attempt flopped. Curran still won by 3 percentage points.

Despite not having any criminal justice ballot initiatives in 2017, this year will be remembered as one that saw a continuation of the push against mass incarceration and for criminal justice reform. The politics of mass incarceration are just as influential as the policies of mass incarceration. This is particularly true of district attorneys, who have extraordinary discretion in who gets incarcerated; the problem is that extraordinary power can be ripe for extraordinary abuse. This year suggests that the politics of mass incarceration may begin to change on a broader scale and bend towards justice.

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CriminalReformer

Go on the internet and pretend to be a 13 year old girl looking to learn about sex from older men. Then when you start getting responses, save and print them out etc... Then you agree to meet in a park or someplace and ask them to bring 3-500 dollars, more is better. Then once you get to the park, you pull your paperwork and pistol and demand the money. Be sure to tell them you have all the history of your explicit conversations with a 13 year old, that way they won’t call the cops because they don’t want to be exposed as a pedophile.

Then Take the Money and Run! Whooo, whooo, yeah! Go on, take the money and run! Thank you Steve Miller Band. Take their wallet and complete with license then report them as a drunk driver.

BrentDykes

ACLU wants to restore rights of people who break laws while taking away gun rights from people who obey laws. That is why i prefer the NRA

NRAFounder

It’s interesting that the NRA is a group promoting the proliferation of human killing tools. It’s like big tobacco, a group that open sells the product that kills its customers.

Tonight a small child is going to be shot by accident because his/her mom or dad is an idiot that was allowed to have an unsecured gun.

Don’t take the gun away, but make it so hard to get that poor rednecks and crazies can’t afford it. Make it law all guns must be stored in a safe. And I mean an expensive one that can’t be moved etc... Cant afford it, fuck you, you don’t deserve a gun if you can’t keep it safe. The mental health issues are a whole other basket. I’m not giving up my kitchen knives because ur fuckin crazy. I suppose I should keep them in a safe with my hammers and hatchets.

Dr. Joseph Goebbels

A few negros are getting uppity in Ferguson and elsewhere, and whitey is on the run again just like in the 1960's.

RommelsBoytoy

They’re called niggas. Four score and seven years ago, the good whiteman decided niggers will no longer be slaves. That all niggas are created equal, that niggas have inalienable rights.

Education time- A “nigger” is degratory term used by whites and beaners to describe “Negros”, the Latin term for dark skin. The term “nigga” is used by negros to describe themselves in a proactive actionable manner. Ex. “Nigga, I ain’t goin’ down that dark hallway”. Or “nigga, please...”. Translation for the whiteman... “Brother, give me a break..”

So you niggers quit using that term in a racist manner, and start using nigga in brotherly love.

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