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Jim Webb: Sandra Bland’s Death Shows Why Criminal Justice Reform “must be a top priority”


Anyone reading this blog the past few years knows that I won’t be supporting Jim Webb for President, for a variety of reasons, first and foremost his refusal to confront the existential threat of global climate chaos in a serious way. However, when it comes to desperately-needed reform of our criminal justice system, I’m very much on the same page as Webb. For instance, see his Facebook post this morning (bolding added by me), which I enthusiastically endorse. Thank you to Jim Webb for his continued leadership on this issue; now Congress needs to act!

I have great respect for the professionals in our law enforcement community who work tirelessly, day in and day out, to maintain order in our communities and to ensure our safety. This is often dangerous, thankless work. At the same time it is clear that prison administration is in dire need of greater training and skill methods to address the needs of those who are mentally ill.

I don’t like to categorize, but we can put the entire population into two groups: Those who think the criminal-justice system desperately needs to be fixed, and those who haven’t been paying attention. Hopefully, through highlighting the tragic loss of Ms. Sandra Bland, the first group will grow.

We must face the fact our prison systems are becoming warehouses for the mentally ill, without providing adequate training for those who are required to administer the systems.

Despite improvements in many systems nationwide, America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. Its irregularities and inequities cut against the notion that we are a nation of fundamental fairness.

Ms. Bland’s death while in custody is another example of why reform of our entire criminal justice system must be a top priority for the next administration. I am speaking of reform from the point of apprehension all the way through how we release people from prison.

This is a tragedy that appears to have started wrongly. It could and should have been prevented by law enforcement from the very start.

I have been working for nine years to lead a major, nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long and of how we address the long-term consequences of incarceration.

Nationwide, our prison facilities are too often overcrowded, ill-managed places of violence, physical abuse, and hate, making them breeding grounds that perpetuate and magnify the same types of behavior we purport to fear. That should not be the case.

We need to understand our justice system is all too often locking up the wrong people and not locking up the right people in many cases. We are not protecting our citizens from the increasing danger of criminals who perpetrate violence and intimidation as a way of life, and we are locking up too many people who do not belong in jail.

It is incumbent on our national leadership to find a way to fix our prison system. I believe that American ingenuity can discover better ways to deal with the problems of drugs and nonviolent criminal behavior while still minimizing violent crime.

We all deserve to live in a country made better by such changes.

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