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Hillary Clinton Wades Into Baltimore: 'It's Time to End the Era of Mass Incarceration

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Hillary Clinton. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Hillary Clinton on Wednesday addressed the issues of police brutality and rioting most recently seen in Baltimore, by saying the country needs to restore trust between citizens and police officers, and by arguing for an end to lengthy prison terms for low-level offenders.

In an address to Columbia University, Clinton argued that throwing people in jail for smaller crimes isn't making the country any safer. She also said it's depriving thousands of children with parents, which is locking in place a cycle of poverty for these families.

"Keeping them behind bars does little to reduce crime, but it does a lot to tear apart families and communities," she said. "One in every 28 children in our country now has a parent in prison."

"It's time to end the era of mass incarceration," she added. "We need a true national debate about how to reduce our prison population while keeping our communities safe."

Clinton, in a rare policy speech that followed events in which she discussed issues such as jobs and education with small groups of people, said that the U.S. is holding more people in prison today than it was decades years ago. While some say higher incarceration levels is the reason why crime levels have fallen, Clinton indicated that she sees no connection between the two.

"The numbers today are much higher than they were 30, 40 years ago, despite the fact that crime is at historic lows," she said.

Clinton also argued that the United States has lost sight of how to help people with mental health issues, and said many who should be patients are now in prison. "Our prisons and our jails are now our mental health institutions," she said.

Clinton praised the bipartisan work of Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for starting to work on ways to "restore balance to our criminal justice system."

In the wake of riots in Baltimore, Clinton said more work needs to be done to restore trust between cops and the citizens they police. She said the death of Freddie Gray at the apparent hands of police is just the latest reminder of what President Barack Obama has called a "slow-rolling" crisis.

"What we have seen in Baltimore should, indeed I think does, tear at our soul," she said.

Clinton stressed that as a first step, the rioting and looting in Baltimore must stop. But she said cops have work to do on their end.

She called for "smart strategies" to fight crime, a line reminiscent of her call for using "smart power" in the world while she was secretary of State. She had two specific ideas who changing the way police work, ones that many Democrats have said they support.

"We can start by making sure that federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets," she said.

"We should make sure every police department in the country has body cameras to record interactions between officers on patrol and suspects," she added. "That will improve transparency and accountability. It will help protect good people on both sides of the lens."

One last thing…
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