Criminal justice reform has been a hotly debated subject in recent years, as many politicians, journalists and pundits have pointed to a severely broken system that includes for-profit prisons and that disproportionately affects African-Americans and other minorities.

Marianne Williamsonthe self-help guru and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, spoke to uPolitics exclusively about how she would go about implementing criminal justice reform and ending its inherently “immoral” nature.

“First thing we have to do is recognize the terrible racial disparity that exists within our criminal justice system,” said Williamson. “We also have to really allow ourselves to understand at the deepest level what private prison-building means. This is one area of many unfortunately in the United States where people have built multibillion-dollar empires off human suffering.”

Last month, California passed a sweeping criminal justice reform package that includes a bill designed to end the state’s dependence on private, for-profit prisons, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. The bills, which include measures to increase research and improve criminal record-keeping, have yet to be signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).


Williamson also pointed to the fact that black Americans are often given prison sentences twice as long as their white counterparts or longer for low-level drug offenses despite both demographic groups consuming marijuana at roughly the same rates. The author of A Return to Love then said she supports the legalization of marijuana and the decriminalization of other drugs, although she stopped short of saying which substances she would decriminalize.

“The day that marijuana is legalized federally, I’m letting a lot of people out of jail who shouldn’t have been there to begin with and who actually are due an apology,” said Williamson before voicing her support for tax incentives and relief to employ people previously convicted for marijuana-related offenses and who have a “stigma” because of this.

Williamson also called for judges to be allowed to exercise more “discretion” when handing down sentences to offenders. She also used this opportunity to lament the broader fact that the American system — including policies regarding education, economics and the environment — has become so dehumanized and “corporatized.”

“It’s like politics has become a machine rather than a human pursuit,” said Williamson. “It should be an art as well as a science. This is why we need restorative justice and more conflict resolution.”

The self-help author also emphasized that significant reform is needed to ensure convicted Americans have a shorter and less strenuous transition to life after incarceration and that they receive proper treatment once they are released from prison. Williamson called for increased government funding of programs designed to help convicted felons rebuild their resumes and find employment, greater community policing and the development of more mental health programs.

“It’s too easy to get in, it’s too hard to get out,” Williamson said, quoting a phrase often used to describe the American criminal justice system.

Williamson also brought up her proposal to create a Department of Peace to help ensure greater domestic tranquility and returned to the issue of racial disparity in the United States by noting the vast differences in the number of black Americans arrested by police compared to their white counterparts.

“I don’t think the average American recognizes the level of daily stress and trauma that the average policeman is under,” said Williamson. “And I don’t think the average white American has any concept of the trauma and stress that any black person is under any time they see a police car or hear a police siren,” she added before noting how incidents of police officers shooting unarmed black people have led to mass violence and “societal dysfunction” around the country.

Stay tuned for more videos from uPolitics’ series of interviews with 2020 presidential candidates!

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