Hillary Clinton's criminal justice reform plan slammed for being too 'mainstream'

Black Lives Matter protesters who heckled Hillary Clinton's criminal justice reform Friday spell trouble for the Democratic frontrunner.

Clinton, who leads the polls in the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, outlined a reform plan last week in a speech at Clark Atlanta University, a historically black school in Atlanta, Ga. But protesters shouting "Black lives matter" cut off the former first lady and secretary of state's speech. 

An expert on racial profiling indicated that the protesters' differences with Clinton's platform could be more substantial than just dueling slogans. 

What is known about Clinton’s reform plan is a step in the right direction, University of Pittsburgh Law Prof. David Harris told AMI Newswire. But Harris said Clinton is playing it safe.

"They are well within the mainstream," Harris said of Clinton's proposals. "She is taking no risks here."  

On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton is laying out her plan for criminal justice reform in an attempt to appeal to African-American voters. 

The plan is designed to end racial profiling. Clinton has promised to “ban the box”  — the item on federal job applications asking about an applicant’s criminal history. She also vowed to even the disparity between punishment for crimes related to crack and powder cocaine.

“People who have paid their dues to society need to be able to find jobs,” Clinton said at the Atlanta rally. “We believe in second chances, don’t we?”

President Barack Obama may have stolen some of Clinton’s thunder on this promise, as he announced Monday he had instructed federal agencies to ban the box.

Still, Harris said, this is not enough.

“Obtaining employment is a major factor in whether people released from prison can succeed on the outside. But they also need other types of help, such as housing assistance and social services,” Harris said. “So ban the box is one important step on re-entry, but it is not enough by itself.”

Clinton has also vowed to change sentencing regulations so crack cocaine convictions are treated the same as convictions for powder cocaine. Before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, a person convicted for crack possession was sentenced to the same term as someone with 100 times the amount of powder cocaine. Now, that rate is 18:1, according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Clinton said she would fight to end racial profiling in policing. She has said throughout her campaign that she is in favor of outfitting police officers with body cameras.

The move to end racial profiling in policing is not new to Clinton. As a U.S. senator representing New York, Clinton twice co-sponsored the End Racial Profiling Act, a bill that has been introduced repeatedly but has yet to be signed into law.

“These are all steps in the right direction, but they are modest steps that come pretty late,” Harris said of Clinton’s plan. “These ideas are not new. I wouldn’t criticize her for what she’s proposing, but perhaps for what she not proposing. In other words, why not larger, bolder steps? Isn’t the post-Ferguson era a time for bold steps in this area?”

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders has made the decriminalization of marijuana a clear issue in his campaign for the 2016 Democratic nomination. Sanders points to the disproportionate incarceration rate among minorities.

Clinton has not taken a strong stance on marijuana.

“She ought to match Sanders’ position on this and raise him, by supporting federal legislation to legalize marijuana under federal law,” Harris said.

In a statement emailed from Clinton’s campaign to the Washington Post, an aide said Clinton's agenda will focus strongly on policing, incarceration and re-entry into society — and that this is just the beginning of what Clinton has planned.

“These proposals are only the first components of an extensive agenda to be rolled out in the coming days,” the statement read.