Advocating for Criminal Justice Reform
Our criminal justice system is broken and unsustainable, both for our government and society. Our prison population is rising—30 years ago in Hawaiʻi, our prison population was under 1,000. Today, it is over 5,500, with hundreds sent to Arizona because of prison overcrowding. According to the Hawaiʻi Department of Public Safety (PSD), Hawaiʻi spends about $140 per prison inmate per day, which includes program services, food, health care, and administrative costs. That comes out to $51,100 per year per prisoner locked up in Hawaiʻi, more than a year’s salary for many people in Hawaiʻi. In Hawaiʻi and across the country, spending on our criminal justice system continues to increase, yet over 40% of people released from prison return within 3 years.
Federal Decriminalization of Marijuana
Tulsi has led the charge in the U.S. House of Representatives to federally decriminalize marijuana as part of her overall effort towards criminal justice reform. She's introduced the bipartisan Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act to take marijuana off the federal controlled substances list—joining other industries such as alcohol and tobacco. The bill would also eliminate key barriers to developing an industrial hemp industry which would create jobs and provide economic opportunity to communities in Hawaiʻi, and across the country.
The Need for Sentencing Reform
Tulsi is working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to address the many problems that plague our criminal justice system. She is a cosponsor of legislation like the SAFE Justice Act and the Sentencing Reform Act. The SAFE Justice Act takes proven community generated solutions from states throughout the country, like the Hawaiʻi Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) Program, and applies them effectively at the national level. The Sentencing Reform Act reduces certain mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders and allows judges greater discretion in determining appropriate sentences.
Improving the Juvenile Justice System
Young people in the juvenile justice system are at a crossroads in their lives that can lead them down dramatically different paths–either positive or negative. We must do our best to dedicate the resources and provide them with opportunities that will set them on a path toward success, and away from a life of crime. Hawaiʻi’s juvenile justice system is implementing the Ho'opono Mamo Civil Citation Initiative, which is an “innovative collaboration to divert youth away from juvenile court involvement and connect them to a community-based system of support.” Stakeholders throughout the state came together to develop this initiative, which helps first-time youth offenders access supportive services and receive a civil citation rather than an arrest record. The assessment center staff works with the youth and his or her family to address challenges the youth is facing. By using a collaborative approach, this program helps to address the root problem of youth delinquency.
"Our outdated policies on marijuana are turning everyday Americans into criminals, tearing apart families, and wasting huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate people for non-violent marijuana charges." -Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
Empowering Human Trafficking Survivors, Instead of Criminalizing Them
Human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery affecting millions in the United States and abroad. This crime involves either the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for labor or commercial sex, or the exploitation of a minor for commercial sex. As a result of being trafficked, victims are commonly charged with crimes such as conspiracy, money laundering, drug trafficking, and related offenses that then follow them throughout the duration of their lives. These charges make it difficult for human trafficking victims to find jobs and housing, leaving them vulnerable to being exploited and trafficked again.
Tulsi and a bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act to clear criminal records of victims of human trafficking. The bill would apply to non-violent crimes committed by individuals as a direct result of human trafficking, and empower human trafficking victims to escape the chains of their past and move forward with their lives.