Today, much of our criminal justice system is geared to make money. Fines and court fees bring in millions of dollars to government agencies and private services. The “war on drugs” brings in billions of dollars to special interests. The widespread abuse of asset forfeiture - which often comes without any proof of criminal wrongdoing - brings in billions more. Private prisons and corrections institutions add billions more on top. As a result, criminal justice reform is opposed because powerful people make too much money by locking Americans in cages.
This isn't just “a problem,” this is a moral atrocity. A country that calls itself “the land of the free” should never tolerate this injustice upon our society, and the Alliance Party will not stand for it. We seek to dismantle the causes of this injustice piece by piece, and we would do so over several areas:
Fines, punitive fees and asset seizures should be deterrents - not sources of profit. If someone commits a petty crime, fines, community service and counseling fees may certainly be appropriate consequences. The same is true of asset forfeitures. If a criminal made millions of ill-gotten dollars, seizing and auctioning off their assets are equally appropriate. But that money shouldn't go to government slush funds. Crimes are committed against society, thus any punitive money paid in fines or by defendants in criminal cases should go instead to society.
This goal would be accomplished by a proposed constitutional addition, which would see all fines, fees and proceeds from asset forfeitures go into a fund that's spent based on the will of the people by democratic vote. We are not personal ATM machines for bureaucratic fiefdoms, and if someone pays for breaking the law, the American people should be the beneficiary of that money, removing the conflict of interests to police for profit.
Additionally, this amendment would also ensure that the burden of proof in fines or asset seizures rests on the government, not the defendant, and that assets may only be seized after a conviction in court. The Alliance Party believes innocent until proven guilty means just that, and we will vehemently oppose any practice seeking to undermine that standard.
Ban use of private prisons. A contributing factor to our overcrowded prison population and the injustices that surround it is the private prison industry. This industry builds facilities that incarcerate inmates as a private business under paid contracts with the government to have their employees serve as jailers. We see this growing occurrence justified under the logic that a private company has the flexibility to offer a service more effectively than the government, but the reality is far more sinister.
Thanks to the degree of financial influence special interests currently have over our government, they are able to “convince” our legislators to pass laws that not only expand the use of private prisons, but also mandate a certain capacity through “Lockup Quotas.” That means if there aren’t enough convicts to fill beds, the state must find people to incarcerate or pay additional fees. This conflict of interest often ends horribly.
Take for example a Pennsylvania judge by the name of Mark Ciavarella who presided over thousands of juvenile cases. He engaged in a “kids for cash” scheme, profiting millions by sentencing juvenile defendants to years in private prisons (regardless of their actual guilt) with sentences far longer than they would have received had they been convicted as adults. And as the prison owners, Robert Powell and Robert Mericle, received millions of taxpayer dollars by locking up railroaded children, they were all too happy to give the corrupt judge a hefty kickback. Although Ciavarella was discovered and sentenced to federal prison in 2011, the horrors experienced by the innocent kids thrown into abusive private prisons (which often includes rampant sexual assault) caused immeasurable mental suffering, leading some of his victims to commit suicide.
In many juvenile facilities, the sexual assault rate is as high as 30%, so the examples of private prison horror stories are by no means limited to Ciavarella’s monstrosities. Today, we’re deploying facilities nationwide where states are incentivized to incarcerate people, including women and children, and in the facilities that house the most vulnerable among us, as many as 1 in 3 are raped as a routine occurrence.
Combined with the financial conflict of interest inherent to other areas of corrections, efforts to make our laws less draconian are fought tooth and nail and painted as “soft on crime” and “risking the safety of our children.” But bringing common sense and humanity to our corrections is not a measure of weakness, it is a measure of strength, as society is measured ultimately by how it treats its lowest members.
Society should have an incentive to concentrate on the active rehabilitation of those who break our laws, not sending them into a pit where we write them off and subject them to abusive conditions, and locking people in cages is no business model that should enjoy support in a free nation. Criminal justice is a function of society that must be provided by society – meaning as a public function that is subject to the watchful eye of the Government Accountability Agency.
Banning forced labor and charging for incarceration
Alongside private prisons, our justice system also sees prison labor being used as a surrogate for American workers. They make clothing, food and other products for private companies who have paid for the “right” to hire out inmates, paying them pennies on the dollar if at all. Should they refuse to work, the inmate is subjected to punitive measures, such as removal of visitation privileges or placement in solitary confinement.
This practice, simply stated, is slavery by another name. It's dishonorable. It's disgraceful. And the Alliance Party intends to cease it as soon as we are able. While we plan on encouraging and incentivizing inmates to voluntarily work on programs of public benefit that also teach new skills they can take back to the workforce, such as building homes for impoverished Americans, contracting inmate labor for private benefit should be outright prohibited.
We also stand for banning the practice of charging inmates for their incarceration. While forcing lawbreakers to pay for their crimes in terms of fines is often appropriate, billing them for their incarceration leaves inmates deeply indebted upon release from prison, which makes it extremely difficult to set themselves on the right path towards rejoining society. As with private prisons, corrections is a function of society for the benefit of society - not a means of profit.