Stumping in Philadelphia ahead of the April 22 primary election, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton unveiled a $4 billion plan to combat crime today. Most important, aside from the fact that she injected the topic into a campaign season that has essentially avoided it, is her call to do away with mandatory five-year sentencing for crack cocaine users. Her “Solutions for Safe & Secure Communities Now” agenda also includes hiring 100,000 new police officers (lifting a page from her husband), allocating $250 million a year to “community-oriented prosecutors,” reducing homicide rates by half and promoting a “tough but fair” approach to probation in order to keep recidivism down.
I haven’t found a transcript of her speech yet, but according to the news reports I’ve read and from reading the release on her campaign website, Clinton didn’t specify how she would fund the plan aside from assigning a commission to “identify savings” from corporate subsidies. Surely, though, reforming sentencing procedures for low-level drug users would help free up resources.
Two tentative thoughts on this: one is political, the other related specifically to juvenile justice. Politically, it’s clear that Clinton has waded into Obama territory with an attempt to nip away a piece of his Philly base. Her smart stand on sentencing reform also happens to be racially sensitive–I assume she hopes it will play well among African-Americans who are basically on board with Obama but not fervidly or who are leaning toward him but still undecided. On that score, it’s a wise move. Remember, though, that this eminently Clintonian strategy reveals very little about Hillary’s actual commitment to the ideas she has just put forward. The fact that she’s finding religion on this stuff at this particular moment, however, says a lot.
With regard to juveniles, Clinton really didn’t get into specifics as far as I can tell. MSNBC tells me she tossed out a hollow bromide about implementing “programs to help at-risk youth.” And as that UPI brief reports, “If elected, she said she would direct the U.S. attorney general to make online child exploitation and harassment a major federal priority, and to vigorously prosecute identity theft, particularly theft of children’s identities.” More specifically, there’s this, lifted from her website:
Prevent Crime through Early Interventions for At-Risk Kids. Those on the front lines know that the best way to reduce crime is to prevent it in the first place. Hillary will partner with states and communities to provide the interventions that will start kids out on the right track and keep them there, including after-school programs, nurse home visitation, and early-intervention mentoring programs.
Crack Down on Child Exploitation Online and Fight Identity Theft. Hillary will direct the Attorney General to make online child exploitation and harassment a major federal priority, and vigorously prosecute identity theft, particularly theft of children’s identities. She will strengthen and vigorously enforce federal laws against online child exploitation, and she will dramatically increase funding for state Internet Crimes Against Children task forces.
During her speech Hillary cited as a model her husband’s approach to crime prevention. Bill Clinton, let’s not forget, presided over a massive crackdown on juvenile offenders and helped blur the lines between juveniles and adults in the US justice and prison systems–the negative consequences of which we’re seeing in states across the country today. But by highlighting child exploitation (whether from online sexual predators or ID thieves), she seems to be taking a page from the Bush II Administration, as well. As I’ve discussed recently, under Bush the mandate of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has quietly shifted from setting policy on juvenile crime and developing prevention strategies to protecting innocent children from evildoers. It’s as if Hillary is trying to tackle the juvenile superpredators that were in the Justice Department’s crosshairs during her husband’s terms in office and the adult predators that the Justice Department has been battling during Bush’s tenure. In both cases, the scourge is for the most part phantasmic. When you take an honest look, it becomes clear that the real priorities are elsewhere. Which presents Barack Obama with an opportunity to correct the record–if he’s up to the task.