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Criminal Justice No. 117

Adopted 1994
Reaffirmed 1995
Reaffirmed 1996
Reaffirmed 1997
Reaffirmed 1998
Reaffirmed 1999
Amended 2001
Amended 2002
Amended 2003
Amended 2004
Amended 2005
Amended 2006

In recent years, Americans have been turning to the criminal justice system in a futile effort to solve a multitude of complex social and economic problems. This effort includes the initiation of new punishments, more severe sentencing, and mandatory minimum sentences. Despite research that confirms the failure of these efforts in reducing crime, they have tremendous popular appeal. ADA firmly believes that deterrence and rehabilitation should be the primary goals of our criminal justice system.

Mandatory sentencing, especially for drug offenses, has resulted in overcrowded prisons and spurred building of more prisons. Prison construction has become a major growth industry, siphoning funds from effective social programs that might significantly lower the crime rate.

Furthermore, the entrenched policies of the criminal justice system, economic inequality, racially-biased policing, and prosecutorial decision-making and sentencing, combined with insufficient funding for public defenders' offices and legal aid, result in a system of racism and classism in which the poor and people of color constitute a disproportionate percentage of the incarcerated population.


  1. ADA calls for a totally new approach to anti-social behaviors that emphasizes deterrence by improving education, drug and alcohol treatment, and opportunities for recreation as well as job training programs, which encourage economic security and social responsibility.
  2. To combat recidivism, ADA supports full funding of education, job training, drug and alcohol treatment and mental health services for those incarcerated and ex-offenders.
  3. ADA opposes mandatory sentencing , which undermines judicial discretion.
  4. ADA supports alternative sentencing in lieu of prison terms for victimless crimes.
  5. ADA supports separation of violent and non-violent offenders in prisons.
  6. ADA opposes the death penalty and supports state moratoria as steps toward abolishing capital punishment.
  7. ADA supports full funding of public defenders' offices and sufficient time and money to utilize modern DNA and other technical testing that could exonerate the accused.
  8. ADA supports making government-provided DNA testing a legal right for defendants.
  9. ADA opposes the trend toward privatization of prisons. Justice and profit are a questionable combination. Lines of accountability become blurred, the protection of constitutional rights is diminished, and the risks of dehumanization increase as the state contracts out its legal obligation.
  10. ADA opposes uses of prison labor in ways that lead to the loss of existing jobs. ADA opposes use of prison labor to perform tasks that provide prisoners with access to personal and confidential information concerning other individuals who are not incarcerated.
  11. ADA supports full funding and staffing of the juvenile justice system. Judges, public defenders and caseworkers must be compensated at levels comparable to similar workers in the adult system.
  12. ADA opposes trying juveniles as adults. To increase the chances that they can be better socialized and turned away from criminal behavior, it is imperative that children with behavioral difficulties receive necessary social services and where applicable, mental health services, when they first commit crimes.
  13. ADA opposes incarceration of juveniles for non-violent crimes.
  14. ADA opposes incarceration of juvenile offenders within the adult population.
  15. ADA supports individual evaluation of violent juvenile offenders when they reach majority, and continued confinement in a mental health facility for those who have not been rehabilitated and are found to continue to pose a danger to society.
  16. ADA demands that all prisoners be held under humane conditions, free from abuse by prison staff or other prisoners.

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No. 117