Katie Malone

Katie Malone is an editorial intern at The American Prospect

Recent Articles

Human Rights Watch Details Ongoing U.S. Criminal Justice Abuses

Despite recent progress toward criminal justice reform, the United States continues to pursue policies that encourage mass incarceration and fail to rehabilitate offenders, according to a Human Rights Watch report presented to the United Nations Human Rights Committee earlier this year.

The international watchdog organization also detailed a spectrum of overreach and misconduct in the criminal justice system, including adult sentences for juvenile offenders and disproportionate sentencing based on race.

The U.S. juvenile detention system often tries young people as adults and metes out sentences that outweigh the crimes. The number of youth in prison has dropped by 50 percent since its peak in 2000, but over 5,000 juveniles remain incarcerated in adult jails and prisons nationwide.

Human Rights Watch raised specific concerns about disproportionate sentencing and racial profiling. While African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, African Americans are imprisoned on drug charges at six times the rate of white users.

Surprisingly, the Trump administration has taken some steps toward effective criminal justice reforms; President Trump signed the First Step Act into law in December. New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker said in statement that the bill would help “correct the ills of the failed War on Drugs.” The law includes provisions that increase good-time credits, move offenders closer to their homes, and expand skill-building programs.

But Human Rights Watch and other criminal justice advocacy groups vehemently opposed the measure, and last spring the group urged the House Judiciary Committee to vote no. Jasmine Tyler, Human Rights Watch’s U.S. advocacy director, explained that most of the text is “extremely problematic,” with the exception of few measures like retroactivity for equalizing powder cocaine and crack cocaine sentences.

Attorney General William Barr could also pose a threat to reform, the group says. Barr has a history of supporting initiatives, from harsher sentencing for crack cocaine to co-signing a report in favor of increasing incarceration in the 1990s, that are at odds with the First Step Act as well as broader criminal justice reform efforts.

Tyler also criticized the use of a “risk assessment based on a likely racist system” to place people into re-entry programs that “likely don’t exist.” According to Tyler, the law does not address the limited services and abysmal halfway-house conditions that many people returning to their communities face. As Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the committee, passing “back-end reform” without including “front-end reform” won’t meaningfully improve the federal system.

Democrats Stand to Benefit as More Young Republicans Embrace Progressive Values

The Pew Research Center released a survey in January highlighting the left-leaning values of Generation Z. While most of Gen Z has yet to reach voting age, its members are now 13-to-21 years old, those who identify as Republican hold more progressive values than Republican millennials, Generation Xers, Baby Boomers, or the Silent Generation. If these trends hold, they could presage a broader disillusionment with a GOP in thrall with its right wing. A Democratic Party that actively embraces its progressive youth would be well-situated to make inroads with this group.

Generation Z and millennials share common perspectives, and both generations are more progressive than their elders. Both generations hold negative views of President Donald Trump's job performance, believe that government should be more involved in problem solving, and think that racial and ethnic diversity is good for society. 

Overall, Generation Z has little enthusiasm for Trump’s tenure in office. Only 30 percent of them approve of his job performance, compared to 29 percent of millennials, 38 percent of Gen Xers, 43 percent of boomers, and 54 percent of the Silent Generation. Although Trump remains very popular among older Republicans, a smaller majority of Gen Zers support him. 

Younger generations have more positive views of the role of government: 53 percent of Generation Z respondents believe that ordinary citizens can do a lot to influence the government in Washington. Gen Z Republicans share this optimism: They are much more likely than older generations to believe that government should work to solve problems. Most older Republicans responded that the government does too much; problem-solving, they feel, should be left to businesses and individuals. 

Gen Z is even closing the partisan gap on divisive issues like race, immigration, gender, and climate. Generation Z Republicans are notably more aware of social inequities compared to previous generations: 43 percent of Gen Z Republicans surveyed believe that African Americans are treated less fairly than whites compared to 30 percent of millennials. Roughly 20 percent of Gen Xers, boomers and silent Republicans believe that blacks are treated unfairly. 

Of the Gen Z Republicans surveyed, 41 percent believe that application forms should include gender options besides just male or female while only 27 percent of millennial, 17 percent of Generation X, and 16 percent of both boomers and silent generation Republicans do.

And on climate, only 18 percent of young Republicans attribute the Earth’s warming to natural patterns rather than human influences; while 30 percent of millennials, 36 percent of Gen Xers, 42 percent of boomers, and 41 percent of silent generation Republicans do.

It’s hard to know whether this leftward tilt will persist as Generation Z Republicans reach voting age, but it’s a trend that bears watching. If the GOP continues to stoke fears about immigration and racial and ethnic diversity; downplay the importance of gender; and sow doubt about climate change, the Democratic Party’s progressive values may be much more appealing.