Weighing The Candidates- Examining Their Stances on Criminal Justice Reform
As the United States continues to incarcerate more people than any country on Earth, the 2020 presidential candidates have come under increasing pressure to solidify their stances on issues surrounding criminal justice. Each of the major candidates has a different plan to address this issue, with some making it a key point for their campaign.
Criminal justice in a broad sense is the sequence of investigation, trial, and potential sentencing of those who have committed actions in violation of the law. It also includes the exploration of the consequences of this system. The institution of American justice has systematically targeted minorities and those inhabiting impoverished communities, creating a call for reform which has come to represent one of the major tenets of the Democratic party as a whole.
Joe Biden, who continues to lead in the democratic polls, has resolved to curtail crime by tripling funding for education Title I, a measure that would provide at-risk youth with a leg up to prevent them from falling behind in school and falling into trouble. Biden has based this priority on statistics revealing that incarcerated individuals are disparately illiterate. He would also support the passage of the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act, set forth by Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), which would increase government transparency in processing criminal cases. Among other changes, the act would also specifically target issues of recidivism, or a criminal’s likelihood to reoffend, which stands as one of the most pressing issues regarding criminal justice.
Elizabeth Warren, currently trailing just behind Biden, has pledged to rescind Trump’s executive order allowing schools to receive surplus military grade weapons under the 1033 Program, then fully fund the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education. With increased police presence in schools following a slew of school shootings, Warren has voiced her concerns over schools becoming too heavily policed. With a large number of American schools lacking adequate social support such as counselors, Warren fears that schools will further feed into the prison pipeline. She has also centered her campaign around ending private prisons and decriminalizing mental health crises, with increased funding for mental health services through Medicare for All.
Bernie Sanders, who is polling in third place as of November 2019, has firmly stated the importance of getting rid of cash bail through the No Money Bail Act of 2018 from his Senate run. Cash bail has been criticized for its effects on those in poverty, as those unable to post bail are kept in jail, leaving them vulnerable to loss of employment. His aim of reducing incarceration rates would be achieved through the decriminalization of drug use and lesser punishments for youth offenders. He has outwardly opposed the prison industrial complex, urging the end of private prisons. Sanders has additionally advocated for voting rights for incarcerated individuals, a stance which has created stark divisions within the party.
Donald Trump’s campaign for re-election has been centered around immigration and economic policy, though he has achieved some criminal justice reforms during his tenure in office. On June 3 of 2017, the Trump Administration announced the National Public Safety Partnership, which cooperates with inner cities areas to reduce crime. In addition, he has allocated $2 billion towards reducing school violence and has signed into law the bipartisan STOP School Violence Act of 2018. Notably, President Trump also signed and supported the First Step Act, a prison reform initiative built to help non-violent prisoners reintegrate into society.
All three of the leading Democrats currently oppose the death penalty, though Joe Biden has faced heat over his role in helping to author the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 as a senator, expanding the death penalty to cover a broader range of offenses. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration and Attorney General Barr have announced the federal government’s plans to reinstate capital punishment after nearly two decades, with the Justice Department announcing 5 executions planned to take place in 2020.
Though each Democratic candidate plans to go about reform in their own way, all of their proposals stand in stark contrast to the aims of Trump. With the primary and general elections fast approaching, the candidates will further buckle down on their priorities as they race to reach previous and future supporters.