Via America’s Lawyer: Criminal justice reform activist and former DC police officer Ronald Hampton joins Mike Papantonio to break down a report by the Prison Policy Initiative, which documents staggeringly high rates of recidivism among black and poor populations. It appears our Prison Industrial Complex has trapped disadvantaged populations in an endless cycle of incarceration.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             A recent report released by the prison policy initiative has sent the media a buzz. It found staggering high recidivism among the people of color as well as people from underprivileged backgrounds often trapping them in a revolving door. Justice reform activist and former DC police officer Ronald Hampton joins me to talk about it. Ronald, first of all, let, let’s start off with just a couple of facts and figures because the facts and figures tell the story. The report that indicates that among the nearly 5 million people incarcerated every year, nearly one quarter of those people are repeat, repeat offenders. Talk about that.

Ronald Hampton:             Well, they are because they have a lot of problems and in our society we don’t deal with those problems. A lot of times we lock people up rather than try to find out what are the root causes to the situations that happen. And it can be as minor as people in vacant houses, they can be people who are out panhandling on the street, all of those kinds of things. And we actually have had cities in the last five, six, ten years that had developed laws that prevent people from panhandling. And if you do, you get arrested.

Well, if a person gets arrested panhandling for money, then they don’t have the money to be able to pay out. And then we have other laws that’s been enacted that surround that same kind of scenario. And so what we, what we have done is provided a way to incarcerate people even more and less of a way to deal with the root cause issues that they confront every day.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, presidential hopefuls this time at least are bringing this topic up. You’ve got Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, they recently unveiled these sweeping criminal justice reforms. They cite overcrowded prisons and millions of minorities being disenfranchised by what they consider racially charged systems of incarceration. Their proposals include repealing tough on crime legislation, ending mandatory minimum sentencing, putting up a stop to cash bail system.

Ronald Hampton:             Right.

Mike Papantonio:             Does that make sense to you? You’ve worked in this your entire life. Does any of that make sense? Or is it, is it just gonna be something that makes the process worse as we’re already hearing from the conservative side of it? And that is that this isn’t a social issue. This isn’t, this doesn’t have to do with poverty. These are just people who commit crimes. I mean, that’s, that if you really reduce what the other side is saying, that’s what they’re saying and that’s what the population is buying into, that you can’t do anything to change this. This is just endemic of the population. Those arguments are actually being made right now.

Ronald Hampton:             Well, I disagree with that. I think if we invested as much in education, housing, into healthcare in the type of services that we provide to individuals in our community rather than an, and while reducing the criminal justice budgets in our cities and counties and invest that money in people, then we will begin to see the kind of services increased and the services as well as the decrease in the prisons population of these people. It clearly has been a problem. And so if they are talking about reform, what I would call restruction, they then they have to consider those kinds of issues. The entry to the criminal justice system is through arrest and police go out there every single day and carry out the, the mission of our society.

And if people who are poor, people who are mentally ill, people who are down on their luck, people who don’t have housing and jobs are the target of those pieces of legislation and the laws, then those are going to be the people who get locked up. Why would you lock up someone who doesn’t have a job, place a bail on him, a cash bail on him or her who can’t pay the bail and then end up spending 90 to 120 days in jail? It doesn’t make sense. When we could be servicing that person, providing them with some social services and the other things that they need to make them whole and productive individuals in our society, I think that’s the way to go.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. Unfortunately we have, we have a justice system that’s built around retribution.

Ronald Hampton:             That’s true.

Mike Papantonio:             Much more than it’s built around rehabilitation or anything really creative. Ronald, thank you for joining us. Okay. I don’t have, I don’t have a lot of hope that Capitol Hill is going to do much with this, but they might, at least the discussion is out there. We’ve got, we’ve got two, at least two presidential candidates that have enough brains to actually be talking about this. Thank you for joining me, Ronald. Okay.

Ronald Hampton:             Thank you very much for having me.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.