• Since black and Latino prisoners are given more jail time than whites who commit the same crimes—and poor prisoners also face harsher penalties than wealthier ones, who can presumably afford better lawyers—What mechanisms can you as the president put in place to ensure a more equitable justice system?
Re-entry, Education, Jobs, and Citizenship:
• How will you address the employment needs of ex-offenders, who often go from jail to street to jail, or jail to persistent unemployment?
• How do you reinvigorate a prison education system battered by cuts?
• How do you address the deep state-by-state disparities in voting laws for ex-felons, with some barred from voting for life while others can literally vote by prison? Is this a states’ rights issue you will not touch, or will you prompt, at the very least, an examination of whether allowing ex-felons to vote is warranted for the good of our democracy?
Regulation of for-profit prisons and prison work:
• Would the president consider providing more oversight and regulation of the for-profit prison industry, ensuring that debacles like the Pennsylvania “Kids for Cash” racketeering scandal don’t happen again?
• Should there be more regulation of what kinds of work for for-profit companies prisoners do, and the compensation they receive for it (even if deferred into an account used for education or home-buying)?
In a nutshell, one key set of questions could be:
Mr. President, as both parties look for a way to shrink government spending, is your administration willing to do an audit of criminal justice policies’ cost, fairness, and effectiveness, at the federal, state, and local levels? What will your administration do to ensure that with the tens of billion of dollars spent on incarceration, recidivism rates fall and more ex-offenders reunite with their families, find work, and have a chance to make a positive contribution?