Parsing the Platforms: Criminal Justice Planks for the Upcoming Election

By Jim Reynolds, Academic Program Chair for Online Criminal Justice

In the advent of the nationwide elections taking place soon I wanted to examine the platforms of the two major political parties relative to the criminal justice system.  The key planks are:


  • Provide Funding assistance and technical support for local law enforcement.
  • Continue funding the Community Oriented Policing grants (COPS).
  • Improve anti-recidivism programs.
  • An emphasis on solving the disproportionate effects of crime, violence, incarceration on communities of color through legislation such as the Fair Sentencing Act.
  • Ensure non-arbitrary standards on death penalty.
  • Combat drug crime and substance abuse through programs like the Byrne Grants and drug courts.
  • Work to improve victim rights.  They should be respected, heard, and compensated.
  • Commit to ending violence against women through legislation such as reauthorizing the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act.


  • Supports mandatory sentencing for gang crimes, violent or sexual offenses against children, repeat drug dealers, rape, robbery, and murder.
  • Supports a national registry for convicted child murderers.
  • Supports retention of the death penalty.
  • Supports mandatory prison for assaults involving serious injury to law enforcement officers.
  • Block offenders from seeking civil remedies from victims and governments for injuries sustained in committing their crimes.
  • Promote rehabilitation and work to reduce recidivism through state and local programs such as Accountability courts, Drug courts and diversion programs at the state/local level.
  • Build Restorative Justice programs, using faith-based organizations.
  • Combat prison violence.  Encourage local support of children of prisoners.
  • Support Victims’ rights through bi-partisan state action;  ask Federal courts to be proactive in cases before them regarding victims’ rights.
  • Combat over-criminalization and over-federalization of crimes.  Federal criminal law should focus on acts by federal employees or acts committed on federal property – and leave the rest to the States.  Restrict the power of federal agencies to define a criminal act or set criminal penalties, tasks reserved for Congress.

As one might expect both have well-founded, legitimate concerns, and there is even some common ground; both parties express support for the death penalty, although the Democrats also seek to ensure its use is fair and objective.  The big difference is that the two parties differ on defining support for criminal justice goals with federal tax dollars.  The Democrats emphasize federal funding and action, while the Republicans focus on supporting the state and local governments.

How might a President and Congress interested in bi-partisan solutions approach criminal justice issues while satisfying elements of their key philosophies?  One place to start is programming and legislation to support prevention, rehabilitation, and reduce recidivism.  Accountability Courts for drug offenders, the mentally ill, DUI, veterans, and other specific offender populations have been found to be more cost effective and likely to reduce recidivism than traditional courts.

How do you argue with Restorative Justice Programs that seek compensation and closure for victims while encouraging offenders to face the results of their crimes rather than just serve some time?  Both parties are committed to improving the lot of victims, and must certainly be able to find some common ground in that arena.  These are some good places to start, and would mean job opportunities for students in criminal justice and forensic psychology.

There will be some battles.  Mandatory sentences are filling our prisons, often with recidivist, but non-violent offenders.  Some 3-strikes laws and other mandatory sentencing laws need to be reviewed before enacting more laws.  Strong penalties for violent crime are a must, but our resources are limited.  Repeal of any mandatory sentencing laws could be perceived as soft on crime, so the reasons must be bold and clear.  Likewise, there is a fundamental disagreement over the role of the federal government, and particularly federal funding, which must be negotiated in any bi-partisan effort.

Note that I haven’t even touched on Second Amendment issues.  Both parties have wisely separated their views on gun control from their planks on crime and justice, making it easy to leave that for a different discussion.  For now, serious criminal justice students should closely examine the relevant party planks to be informed, and perhaps to aid in choosing the best candidates in this important election.

Florida Tech offers great opportunities in criminal justice and applied psychology online, as well as campus-based psychology degrees.  Even if you choose another path, education is critical to good citizenship, as one expert said:

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”  ―    Franklin D. Roosevelt

photo credit: <a href=””>Thomas Hawk</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>


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One Comment

  1. I was a police chief under both Democratic and Republican national administrations and the similarities were non-existent. The democrats funded Byrne Grants directly to municipal police agencies, Violence Against Women Act monies to states to be funneled to agencies, and the COPS Office which funded Community Policing initiatives and hiring programs. The Republicans reduced or eliminated all direct Federal funding of local law enforcement. The two parties followed their philosophy in what they supported when it came to law enforcement.

  2. It is hard not to think of negatives when talking about criminals. Crime harms, but with the biggest prison population in the world, more emphasis must be focused on facilitating reintegration back into society, and all the criminal’s rights restored; seeing their sentence as one step in their repayment to society and welcoming them back not ostracism. Helping them have a lifetime of hard work, commitment and dedication to preventing future crimes by anyone. Otherwise the resentment, anger, and sense of injustices continues. Their crime indicates a failure in our society to facilitate working together as a community to help everyone contribute to our society and thus succeed.

    1. Yes, striking a balance
      between criminal behavior and individual freedom is a fine line. In his speech
      to parliament of India Jimmy Carter said, “Democracy is like the
      experience of life itself – always changing, infinite in its variety, sometimes
      turbulent and all the more valuable for having been tested for adversity.”
      This statement is also applicable to the dilemmas that are faced when
      attempting to provide a balance between order and freedoms. If we understand
      the definitions of order and freedom we will be able to determine the type of
      authority needed to balance the two. Overall, one way to combat crime is to
      attack the social problems that contribute to its existence.

      What do you think?

      Chineze J.

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