Criminal Justice

The discussion around criminal justice involves the aspects of policing, sentencing, and jailing of criminalsBy
cover icon for Criminal JusticeAttribution: Midjourney


The discussion around criminal justice involves the aspects of policing, sentencing, and jailing of criminals. This topic is significant as the United States has the highest rate of incarcerated citizens per capita, putting it over six times higher than the average of all other industrialized nations. This finding means that almost 1 in 33 adults is under some form of incarceration by the criminal justice system and that our government spends over 80 billion dollars per year only at the federal level.

This brief will discuss issues like the war on drugs, the sentencing for dealers and users, and the ideal structure for a prison system. This brief will also touch on policing and possible police brutality, but the bulk of that conversation will be covered in a separate brief.


Republicans have long advocated for stricter sentencing for significant crimes. They believe that some crimes merit the death penalty and that other crimes deserve life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 2012 the Republican Party Platform stated, "Liberals do not understand this simple axiom: criminals behind bars cannot harm the general public. To that end, we support mandatory prison sentencing for gang crimes, violent or sexual offenses against children, repeat drug dealers, rape, robbery, and murder. We support a national registry for convicted child murderers. We oppose parole for dangerous or repeat felons. Courts should have the option of imposing the death penalty in capital murder cases." Besides serious crimes, Republicans have also been consistent supporters of strict punishments for petty crimes since they believe that tackling the issue of crime early on is the best way to prevent petty criminals from evolving. Republicans also believe that prisons should not be luxurious and should serve as an effective deterrent to crime, minimizing the expense to the taxpayer. However, Republicans have stated their support for rehabilitative programs where appropriate, especially for non-violent, first-time offenders. In recent years, some Republicans have favored laws reducing prison times and allowing certain convicts to seal or expunge their records.


Democrats generally favor changing the current laws that govern the criminal justice system. Some of the laws that Democrats favor repealing involve the use of drugs, as many Democrats believe decriminalization is the right way forward and an end to the war on drugs is necessary. Another critical issue for democrats is the sentencing of minors; as stated by the DNC, Democrats believe that "if you are not old enough to drink, you are not old enough to be sentenced to life without parole." They Instead favor federal incentives for communities to develop alternatives to mandatory detention. Democrats also believe that children should automatically have their records sealed and expunged upon completion of their sentences.

Regarding policing, Democrats believe that police should be banned from using chokeholds and carotid holds and permitted deadly force only as a last resort. Democrats also favor tighter regulation on no-knock warrants as "The risk of mistakes and unintended consequences is too great." Democrats also favor "implicit bias training" as a mandatory prerequisite for becoming a police officer. Aside from policing, Democrats hope to decrease crime rates in a more foundational fashion through social workers. Their initiative is to place them within low-income neighborhoods so that children who are statistically inclined to be involved in the crime have a mentor fostering productive alternatives. Overall, democrats want to apply more diplomatic solutions to issues concerning criminal justice.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the responsibility of the government in regards to crime?
  • What is the purpose of incarceration? Should it be about retribution or rehabilitation?
    • To this end, how should prisons look?
  • Should minor crimes like drug use and distribution have incarceration as a penalty?
  • Should minors be able to receive life in prison?
  • Are social workers a viable solution to prevent crime?

Sources: “PROTECTING COMMUNITIES and BUILDING TRUST by REFORMING OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.” Democrats, n.d. []( “Republican Views on Crime.”, July 29, 2015. [](

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