The Washington, DC-based organization The Sentencing Project recently published an 11-page guide on where the leading presidential candidates stand on a range of key criminal justice issues, including sentencing policy, reentry, the death penalty, and felony voter disenfranchisement. The Sentencing Project is a non-partisan organization and does not endorse candidates. However, it is important to point out that the only candidate positions in the guide are those of Senators Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama. Unfortunately, third party candidate positions are not included.
On the issue of mandatory minimum sentences, Clinton believes “Mandatory minimum sentences for certain violent crimes are appropriate, but have been applied too broadly and in ways that are unfair to minority offenders.” Obama has “proposed abolishing mandatory minimum sentences; promises to review all minimum sentences and eliminate those that are too harsh.” Senator McCain “supports mandatory sentences for selling illegal drugs.”
With regard to the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” law, Clinton supports “three-strikes” as necessary to incapacitate violent offenders. Senator Obama has not explicitly addressed “three-strikes,” but generally opposes harsh mandatory sentences, and Senator McCain did not respond to this question.
In regards to the “War on Drugs,” Senator Clinton “Supports drug courts for low-level offenders.” She also believes focus should be on treatment. Senator Obama “Supports drug courts for first time, non-violent offenders and believes focus should be on prevention and unemployment.” Senator McCain “Supports mandatory sentences for drug dealers, but believes that too many first-time drug offenders–not dealers–are in prison.”
On the issue of crack/powder cocaine disparities in sentencing, Hillary Clinton has “Previously supported decreasing disparity to 10-to-1, but is now a cosponsor of an equalization bill in the Senate. She also is opposed to guideline changes being applied retroactively.” Barack Obama “Supports eliminating disparity and applying guideline changes retroactively.” Obama is a co-sponsor of the Senate equalization bill. Senator McCain did not respond to this question.
When it comes to the death penalty Senator Clinton “Supports the death penalty, but advocates for competent defense counsel and DNA testing. She also lobbied for law expanding list of crimes subject to death penalty.” Senator Obama was “Initially opposed to the death penalty during his Senate race, but now supports it for heinous crimes. He also led support for reforms to avoid wrongful convictions.” Senator McCain simply responded by saying he “Supports the death penalty.”
On the issue of disproportionate minority representation in the criminal justice system, Clinton “Intends to have the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice to protect liberties and act on reports of abuse in criminal justice system. She also supports legislation on racial profiling.” Obama “Believes disproportionality is related to poverty and unemployment among minorities.” He promoted fair defense by passing an Illinois bill requiring videotaping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases. Senator McCain “Opposed the Racial Justice Act, which proposed enabling prisoners to demonstrate racial discrimination using sentencing statistics in death sentence appeals.”
In regards to ex-offender re-entry into communities, Clinton,”Calls for investing in re-entry partnership grants in her Youth Opportunity Agenda. She co-sponsored the Second Chance Act to provide counseling and job opportunities for ex-offenders. Clinton also supports programs that teach non-violent offenders skills while they are in prison.” Senator Obama “Co-sponsored the Second Chance Act to provide counseling and job opportunities for ex-offenders. He promises to create a prison-to work incentive program to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates.” Senator McCain “Supports programs that provide job-related skills and job placement assistance when prisoners are released.”
On the issue of felony disenfranchisement, Senator Clinton supports re-enfranchisement. She was the lead sponsor of the Count Every Vote Act to restore voting rights of ex-felons after they have repaid debt to society. Senator Obama also supports re-enfranchisement and was a co-sponsored the Count Every Vote Act. Senator McCain did not respond to this issue.
Lastly, on the issue of parole only Senator McCain responded. He supports “truth in sentencing” for violent offenders so that they serve full sentences with no chance of parole.
The Sentencing Project also provides several pages of comments and quotes from each of the three major party candidates on these issues.