For the past few years, criminal justice policy has widely been considered an area ripe for reform from Democrats and Republicans. They want to make the system less punitive and pull back mass incarceration — a rare show of bipartisanship in an increasingly polarized political climate.
Then came Donald Trump.
On the campaign trail, the Republican presidential candidate has been somewhat of an enigma on criminal justice issues. Trump's website includes no platform on criminal justice issues. Reform advocates have long complained to me that they have trouble getting in touch with his campaign to get an idea of his views. And despite some vague remarks here and there, he's almost never talked at length about what he thinks about criminal justice issues. (His campaign didn't get back to me for this piece.)
But there are some big clues about what kind of policies President Trump would pursue — and none of them are good for reform.
To gauge this, I looked at Trump's comments over the past few decades, particularly his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, which has perhaps his clearest statements on criminal justice policy. I also looked at Trump's advisers — the people most likely to influence his thinking on criminal justice issues. And I looked at the few comments Trump has made on the campaign trail regarding these issues.
A clear trend emerged: Trump would very likely be "tough on crime" — he would very likely back tougher prison sentences and invasive policing practices, and would likely continue the more punitive aspects of the war on drugs.
To some degree, this isn't too surprising: Trump is an authoritarian strongman, so it makes sense that his approach to this issue, as with immigration and national security, would be to act as tough as possible. And he lived in New York City in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, when the city was engulfed by violent crime — a time period that likely influenced his views.
Still, it shows that for all the discussion in media and politics about bipartisan criminal justice reform, the candidate for president on one side appears far from interested in making the criminal justice system less punitive. Here are three major pieces of evidence that demonstrate this point.
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