Analysis: What Trump Means for Criminal Justice Reform

The election of Trump on Tuesday probably stalls, if not outright reverses, criminal justice reform gains across the country.

We have already laid out Trump’s view on the death penalty and, in particular, the ad he took out in 1989 calling for the execution of the Central Park Five – only later they have been exonerated, but Mr. Trump refuses to acknowledge it.

As Radley Balko wrote in his column yesterday, “Donald Trump — a death-penalty zealot who called for the execution of the (innocent) Central Park Five and essentially ran a campaign of fear-mongering about immigration, the ‘war on cops,’ and the ‘inner cities’ — will be the next president of the United States. Trump is anything but predictable. Perhaps he’ll surprise us. This, after all, is a man who within the last five years called for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and has in the past called for drug legalization. But all we have to go on now is his campaign rhetoric. And that doesn’t bode well.”

What is most likely to change?

Maurice Chapman writes in the Marshall Project, “One of the Obama administration’s most aggressive civil rights tactics — the investigation and forced reform of local police departments — is poised to be upended by President-elect Donald Trump.”

The DOJ, since the 1990s, has the power to launch civil rights probes into police departments but can also issue a “consent decree.”  These have been issued in places like Oakland and LA, Chicago and Baltimore.

Mr. Chapman writes, “Not surprisingly, that doesn’t always go down well with police. Under Obama, the investigations often took place in cities that had seen high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement, including Cleveland, Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago. Consent decrees can quell tensions, unearth inequity and institute cultural change amid long-standing resistance. They can also rankle police who see them as heavy-handed government overstep that is largely politically motivated and expensive to implement.”

With less protection from the DOJ under Trump, police agencies that feel under fire might breathe easier, but the continuation of officer-involved shootings could make the situation far more explosive on the ground.

Radley Balko points out that Trump “has all but promised to undo Obama’s modest reforms to the 1033 program, which provides surplus military gear to local police departments and has contributed to the militarization in both mind and action of police agencies across the country.”

There will be a big impact on the judiciary, as he is likely to appoint “federal judges less skeptical of police misconduct and less protective of the Fourth Amendment. He’ll almost certainly appoint U.S. attorneys more likely to seek the death penalty at the federal level.”

This could be bad news also for the wrongly convicted, who rely on judges to order new trials and throw out faulty evidence.

As Bill Keller points out over at the Marshall Project, Trump can also undo Obama’s executive orders on an array of issues including: juvenile solitary confinement, federal private prisons, “ban the box,” and designating federal drug crimes a low priority.

Writes Mr. Balko, “These reforms were revolutionary in that Obama is the first president in a couple of generations to at least acknowledge that the criminal-justice system is in need of reform, other than simply making it ‘tougher on crime.’ But in practice, they were all relatively modest. Still, Trump could undo them with the stroke of a pen. He could also undo or simply end much of the important but largely symbolic work the administration is doing on forensics reform.”

The scariest part of what Trump could do would be who he nominates to key positions.  “This list of potential cabinet picks from Politico ought to terrify anyone interested in civil liberties,” writes Mr. Balko.

It includes Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General (read about his view of “Freedom is about authority).  There is talk about Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, NJ Governor Chris Christie and even Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Sheriff Clarke, a prominent Trump backer, posted, “These temper tantrums from these radical anarchists must be quelled. There is no legitimate reason to protest the will of the people.”

For anyone who remembers “Giuliani Time” in New York, having him as AG is borderline scary, but that is the world where we now live.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. South of Davis


    You should give Trump a chance.

    He is not a “traditional conservative” (and probably the “least” conservative Republican ever elected president).

    I might be wrong but I’m not up at night worried that he “might” undo or simply end much of the important but “largely symbolic” work of the Obama administration…

    1. Barack Palin

      Exactly my thoughts.  It’s not just David, I’m reading Trump doom and gloom stories all over the Internet on what Trump might do.

      Give the man a chance and quit with all the unfounded hysteria.


        1. David Greenwald

          There was a 1997 incident in which several New York City police officers sodomized Haitian immigrant Abner Louima with a plunger in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct station house.   In the initial accounts, one of the officers was claimed to have uttered “It’s Giuliani time!” during the assault, referring to the mayor of New York at that time, Rudy Giuliani. The claim was later retracted, but the incident and the act of of sodomy with a broom handle really occurred.  There was also the Amadou Diallo shooting, who in a precursor to current affairs, was killed when officers fired 41 times at the unarmed man who had no criminal record, apparently in the mistaken belief that he was reaching for a gun. In both cases, justice was not exactly forth coming.  While the officers apparently never said the phrase, many people have come to recall Guilani’s time in NYC as “Guiliani Time.”

      1. Tia Will


        The hysteria is not at all unfounded. It is based on his actual words. People are not making these words up. This are things that he has stated that he will do. So either you believe that he was lying and never intended to them at all but said them only to get elected or you believe that he is going to try his best to do everything he has said. Neither is worthy of the leader of the nation.

    2. David Greenwald

      No I shouldn’t give him a chance, he has to prove he is not the man of his rhetoric, not the other way around. You don’t get to talk like he has spoken both at a policy level and a personal level and earn a benefit of the doubt.

      1. South of Davis

        David wrote:

        > No I shouldn’t give him a chance

        It is interesting that most (but not all) of the people who are working for “Criminal Justice Reform” and want to give actual “convicted criminals” a chance (and actually let them out of jail) are the people that say they won’t give a Republican a chance…

        1. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > Not really interesting. It’s bringing together two very different concepts.

          Why is the “concept” of saying all Republicans are bad who will do bad things “OK” while the “concept” of saying all blacks are bad who will do bad things is “racist” to most on the left?

          P.S. Just think how the left would have gone crazy if whites were marching in the streets burning an effigy of Obama’s head after he got elected…


  2. hpierce

    Every one should remember that although Republicans will control both houses of Congress, some of the President-elect’s “reforms” appear to be DOA… particularly term limits… just ask Mitch McConnell who is serving his 6th term in the US Senate…

    1. Jerry Waszczuk


      50 millions Americans are on foods stamps , jobs in China and other foreign  countries and people  can’t find American made product in the store and you are  crying about civil liberties. Joblessness and welfare state  creates crime and hopelessness .  You are not  an  American Democrat . You are American communist spreading communist  ideology and hate in  the  DavisVanguard together with other  like yourself under the  smoke screen of liberty and justice. Get real.  I am waiting for new U. S Attorney to be  nominated by Trump.

      Take care




    2. Marina Kalugin

      term limits are only to keep those who are too old and senile out…

      it is never the favored ones of the majority,right or in this case I mean correct?

      we could’ve used Mariko for many more years…now we have the dodo and aguilar….jeez.

  3. Marina Kalugin

    reposting as this is truth folks…

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Marina Kalugin
    November 10, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    actually, some of this is s@@@@@@@, but hopefully he will listen to his BOARD of Directors… I just got my certificate the other day.

    but, he is much smarter than the HRC…mostly streetsmarts…and he is not beholden to the donors on the other lists..  

    he will learn very fast…I am sure of it…he is a SLAV after all..   we fight like crazy but are fiercely loyal and protective… of family and friends….

    And that is why many in EU and Russia and former Soviet Blocks are dancing in the streets….

    many of my friends wordwide are also…Aussies, NZ and yes SA and MX   🙂

    It will be a really good thing for this planet when Putin and the Donald start working well together…they already do

      1. tribeUSA

        Geez, what’s wrong with a little chest-thumping? Have you got something against our ancestors; the apes (I’m not ashamed that they are my ancestors; perhaps you deny that they are yours)? Yes, humans have (arguably) evolved since these days; but I see nothing offensive about a token gesture that hearkens back to our roots. Perhaps the Trump victory evokes the ‘primal scream’ in you instead!

        1. David Greenwald

          “what’s wrong with a little chest-thumping? ”

          Because this government and democracy not sports?

          ” I see nothing offensive”

          With all due respect, you’re not exactly a neutral arbiter.

    1. tribeUSA

      Marina–I agree with you that Trump is a very smart man; the mainstream is underestimating him just like they have underestimated everything else about him. It also been pretty clear to me that Hillary is not nearly as smart as she has been made out to be–just your typical foxy politician; very clever but by no means brilliant–seems to me people are confusing an imperious manner with high intelligence (I believe she was once capable of achieving high intelligence; but she has long ago degraded that potential by putting her mind to work in the arts of manipulation and deception; which lead to degeneration of the mind).

    1. Marina Kalugin

      MX charges ALL imports to MX a 16% tax….and that is why at Costco the product which are made in MX are normal price….the stuff Costco imports and resells, like sheets from India…are very highly priced and not the best one can find here in the USA   right?

      although I had a doctors prescription for my water machine and told the truth I wasted 2 hours with the guys in custom in PV>…and still had to pay 16% on the machine to get it in the country..

      Fortunately the guy was nice and only charged me 16% on $500 not on the $5400 I paid for it right? OMG>>>

      Now I have a document to get it in and out without more duties…right?

  4. hpierce

    Ending birthright citizenship comes to mind… you and I were born here (?), and I know my ancestors have been here in the USA, as “birthright citizens” for over 100 years… to think you or I are not citizens is kinda’ scary… or did I miss your meaning?

    Did you mean the “anchor baby” thing?  If so, why could you not use that ‘term’?

    Am thinking that’s actually in the Constitution, but we should amend that, right?


    1. hpierce

      Please recall that the president-elect kept saying for years, that Mr Obama was not a native born citizen of the US… neither were many presidents in the early years of our republic… and George Romney was born in Mexico… yet, Republicans put him up to run for president…

  5. Marina Kalugin

    ooohhhh…I like Rudy and Araipo….why are the criminals in CA and elsewhere living better than the troops?

    of course under Trump, the USA will no longer be in everyone else’s business.

    and the troops won’t be following  ‘weapons of mass destruction” that never existed.

    and not so many will be in prison who are innocent…

    and get rid of the F prison unions…those guards are criminals…mostly….  I knew a few that were nice and kindly at CMF….

    one was a neighbor…and his daughter hung out with my son..when we lived around the corner from Mrs. Surkala the wonderful teacher…right?

  6. Marina Kalugin

    the average MX and CA and EU and RU and Serb and Aussie and NZ and Denmark and GB and Scotland citizen knows the truth way better than those non-immigrants who were and still are brainwashed in the public school systems.

    This morning I was discussing with my latina friend who is also a CAO at the CBS…

    she was at an election party with friends and family and found out she was the only one there who voted for Trump

    We got to Marikos party too early and left right before 8…as we were all exhausted..jeez folks get a grip…and a clue, right…it ain’t what you may think…the donald is not the boogey man, right?   ha ha

  7. talexander555

    Hopefully, criminal Justice reform will not be a complete reversal.   At least in California, there is still a degree of optimism in this area. .  . . .  The attorney general/soon to be senator is hugely devoted to individual rights, and balancing the scales of police misconduct.       I would anticipate another go @ SB1286, albiet a rewritten version.

    As far as beyond, 2020 has Harris written all over it.   After four years of division, she will be everything that the country needs to usher out the old guard.    But, that is another matter.

    I am holding out hope for some degree of restraint by this administration.    At least Paul Ryan might be a moderate voice of reason.    Trump has to know he can’t do some of the things he said he was going to.    Right?



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