A society cannot function without law and order. On the flip side, a society cannot function fairly when its laws and politics serve to protect higher classes while taking advantage of and inhibiting the potential of the lower classes. With a presidential election on the horizon, here are some ways past presidents have had an effect on the American Justice System.
1) President Nixon
Rather than go about rehabilitating inmates, government thought that they should be tough on crime. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act was put in place to regulate the manufacturing and distribution of controlled substances. More importantly though, it set up a drug classification system that combined with mandatory prison terms and limited plea bargains, sent more low level offenders to jail for longer periods of time.
2) President Reagan: The War on Drugs
Ronald Reagan painted a picture that American dream can be fulfilled through hard work and dedication. Unfortunately, his administration was too busy creating regional drug task forces and prosecuting drug offenses to realize that a lack of social welfare equates to a lack of equal opportunity. Between 1980 and 1993, spending on corrections went up by 521% while the funding for employment and training programs were cut in half. Even though blacks and whites have about the same rate of drug use, after Reagan’s administration it was clear that the justice system is racist and targets minorities. Even though African Americans only make up 13% of the population, their drug arrests rose from 21% in 1980 to 36% in 1992.
3) President Clinton
Clinton did not have the same approach as those before him. He advocated for a mixed approach including job training, drug treatment, prevention, and education. But like many politicians, Clinton was not a man of his word. His 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act included nearly $20 billion for the expansion of police& the prison system, while taking away Federal pell grants for education in prison and expanding the federal death penalty—only $7 billion was included for prevention programs.
In the upcoming election, keep in mind the impact your candidate can have on the American Justice System, whether that be his/her advocating policies that directly affect policing, court sentencing, or prevention program funding, amongst other things. Also keep in mind that political rhetoric and reality are two very different concepts. Sometimes their hand may be forced by public opinion fueled by misconstrued media reports and exaggerations.
Jones, S., & Mauer, M. (2013). Race to incarcerate: A graphic retelling. New York: The