Stop Over-Imprisoning Nonviolent Offenders
End the War On Drugs
Invest in Drug Diversion & Mental Health Programs
Legalize Medical Marijuana for Health/Economy Reasons
Acknowledge & Stop the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Too many Tennesseans are in jail for nonviolent, minor crimes that usually involve drugs or even just an inability to pay fines.
The US has less than 5% of world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population. We imprison more of our own people than any other nation. Even as the crime rate declines, incarceration rates climb. Mass incarceration on behalf of private prisons needs to stop, especially since incarceration rates are skewed in favor of targeting minorities with longer sentences and higher arrest rates.
For-profit prisons should not be dictating how we govern. It's a systematic oppression that ruins lives and families, and holds us back as a society, and Attorney General Sessions calling for harsher sentencing for nonviolent offenders is a step in the wrong direction that disproportionately affects minorities. This is what Coretta Scott King and Ted Kennedy warned us about when it comes to Sessions. We need to send as many people as possible to Washington that will stand up to that kind of rhetoric and legislation.
In the past 40 years alone, our government has spent over $1 trillion on the War on Drugs. It has been a failure, exacerbating our country’s massive drug problem rather than fixing it, especially in light of the ongoing opioid crisis, where it’s becoming clearer and clearer incarcerating people for nonviolent crimes does not fix the problem at all. Instead, let's invest in drug diversion and mental health programs, which have proven to be far more effective at slashing drug use. We should work with states, the DOJ, and the Department of Health and Human Services to create drug diversion programs all over the country, which focus on treatment for those with substance abuse issues.
I would also support programs that help lower recidivism rates, reforming people who are in jail so that they don't go back again and again. Much of this vicious cycle starts in the school system, where aggressive zero-tolerance disciplinary practices push kids out of school and into the criminal justice system. This is called the "school-to-prison pipeline", and it disproportionately effects students of color and students with disabilities. We have to acknowledge and address it. In Tennessee it costs us $27,000 a year to imprison someone, but only $1600 to educate them. If we invested half of that on universal pre-K and after school programs we'd keep kids off the streets AND invest in our future while saving money.
On that note, I'm also in favor of legalizing medicinal marijuana, like Rep. Jeremy Cosby has been trying to do in our state legislature - not only for criminal justice reasons, but for health and economic reasons as well. The marijuana industry is exploding, poised to create more jobs than the manufacturing industry has by 2020 to the tune of over 250,000 jobs. Those jobs, and the millions in tax revenue the industry creates, could be very helpful to Tennessee, especially in our struggling rural areas. It's also an issue of compassion and mercy, as over 90% of patients prefer cannabis to opioids when it comes to managing their pain.
We have to change our priorities. We should be working with state and local governments, and the Department of Education, to empower our children, rather than marginalize them. We should be making sure teachers and parents have the resources they need to deal with children in ways that don't involve suspensions - with therapists and counseling, for instance - none of which is made easier by the proposed slashing of Medicaid.