As it has become less controversial, criminal justice policy has largely been absent from the campaign trail this year, say Inimai Chettiar and Abigail Finkelman of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. Writing for The Daily Beast, they contend that, “This silence creates the risk that a moment of promise will become a missed opportunity for change.” For decades, many politicians vied to be the most punitive. Now, “tough on crime” has been replaced with “smart on crime.”
States as disparate as Texas, New York, Kentucky, and California have adopted reforms to reduce their prison populations and ease up their harsh sentencing laws. Americans overwhelmingly want to drop mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Why are candidates avoiding criminal justice reform this election cycle? “Perhaps they're fearful of being painted as soft on crime. Or perhaps they simply don't care enough about the issue to take a position,” Chettiar and Finkelman say. Although voters list the economy and inequality as top concerns, candidates don’t deal with the fact that the current system of mass incarceration costs governments around $260 billion annually, about half the 2014 federal deficit, Chettiar and Finkelman write.