WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton will deliver a major speech on criminal justice reform Wednesday, calling for fundamental changes to how the United States punishes its citizens and an end to a system that disproportionately targets black men.
Clinton is scheduled to keynote the 18th Annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum at Columbia University Wednesday morning. It will be her most significant policy address since she launched her 2016 presidential bid this month.
Clinton will lay out her vision for criminal justice reform, centering around an “end to the era of mass incarceration,” according to an aide who provided a preview of her remarks. Those changes include addressing probation and drug diversion programs, increasing support for mental health and drug treatment and pursuing alternative punishments for low-level offenders.
She also will call for body cameras for every police department in order to increase transparency and accountability in a way that benefits both officers and members of the public.
In a December speech to the Massachusetts Conference for Women, Clinton said the country needed to look at “hard truths” about racial injustice in the current system.
Clinton will revive that theme on Wednesday, saying black men are far more likely than whites to be targeted by police and slapped with longer prison sentences.
During a fundraising event in New York City Tuesday, Clinton addressed the tensions in Baltimore, which is still reeling from the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after sustaining injuries while in police custody.
“It is heartbreaking,” Clinton said. “The tragic death of another young African-American man. The injuries to police officers. The burning of peoples’ homes and small businesses. We have to restore order and security. But then we have to take a hard look as to what we need to do to reform our system.”
Clinton will also make additional comments about Baltimore on Wednesday.
Clinton’s rhetoric on criminal justice has changed significantly since the 1990s, when she was first lady and when President Bill Clinton signed a massive 1994 crime bill into law. At the time, many politicians in both parties — including Clinton herself — were pushing for more prisons and stricter sentencing laws.
While running for president in 2007, Clinton was asked at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum whether her husband’s crime bill was “one of the primary factors behind the rising incarceration rate for blacks and Latinos.” Clinton acknowledged that it had contributed.
“I think that the results — not only at the federal level, but at the state level — have been an unacceptable increase in incarceration across the board and now we have to address that,” she said. “At the time, there were reasons why the Congress wanted to push through a certain set of penalties and increase prison construction and there was a lot of support for that across a lot of communities.”
“It’s hard to remember now, but the crime rate in the early 1990s was very high,” she added. “But we’ve got to take stock now of the consequences, so that’s why I want to have a thorough review of all of the penalties, of all the kinds of sentencing, and more importantly start having more diversion and having more second chance programs.”