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Sanders Releases Excellent Criminal Justice Reform Plan

Sanders Releases Excellent Criminal Justice Reform Plan August 20, 2019

Leaving aside the question of whether Bernie Sanders is the best Democratic candidate for president — please do not broaden this issue out, stick to the specific policies being discussed — the senator just released a very good platform for serious criminal justice reform. It probably would not no chance of passing, but just evaluating what is being advocated there is a great deal to like.

Credit: cliff006 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Metropolitan_Police_car.jpg

In a Tweet, he declared that “we have a criminal justice system that is racist and broken.” Impossible to argue with that, and glad to hear it stated so unequivocally. And in an email to supporters he said we have “over two million people in jail and prison, more than any other nation on earth, and they are disproportionately African-American, Latino, and Native American.” Also entirely true and stated firmly, with no hemming and hawing. We need to make fundamental changes to end the mass incarceration problem. To that end, his plan would:

  • Ban for-profit prisons.
  • Make prison phone calls and other communications such as video chats free of charge.
  • Audit the practices of commissaries and use regulatory authority to end price gouging and exorbitant fees.
  • Incentivize states and localities to end police departments’ reliance on fines and fees for revenue.
  • Remove the profit motive from our re-entry system and diversion, community supervision, or treatment programs, and ensure people leaving incarceration or participating in diversion, community supervision, or treatment programs can do so free of charge…
  • End the use of secured bonds in federal criminal proceedings.
  • Provide grants to states to reduce their pretrial detention populations, which are particularly high at the county level, and require states to report on outcomes as a condition of renewing their funding.
  • Withhold funding from states that continue the use of cash bail systems.
  • Ensure that alternatives to cash bail are not leading to disparities in the system…
  • Rescind former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ guidance on consent decrees.
  • Revitalize the use of Department of Justice investigations, consent decrees, and federal lawsuits to address systemic constitutional violations by police departments.
  • Ensure accountability, strict guidelines and independent oversight for all federal funds used by police departments.
  • End federal programs that provide military equipment to local police forces.
  • Create a federally managed database of police use of deadly force.
  • Provide grants for states and cities to establish civilian oversight agencies with enforceable accountability mechanisms.
  • Establish federal standards for the use of body cameras, including establishing third-party agencies to oversee the storage and release of police videos.
  • Mandate criminal liability for civil rights violations resulting from police misconduct.
  • Limit the use of “qualified immunity” to address the lack of criminal liability for civil rights violations resulting from police misconduct.
  • Conduct a U.S. Attorney General’s investigation whenever someone is killed in police custody.
  • Establish a federal no-call policy, including a registry of disreputable federal law enforcement officers, so testimony from untrustworthy sources does not lead to criminal convictions. Provide financial support to pilot local and state level no-call lists.
  • Ban the use of facial recognition software for policing.
  • Establish national standards for use of force by police that emphasize de-escalation.
  • Require and fund police officer training on implicit bias (to include biases based on race, gender, sexual orientation and identity, religion, ethnicity and class), cultural competency, de-escalation, crisis intervention, adolescent development, and how to interact with people with mental and physical disabilities. We will ensure that training is conducted in a meaningful way with strict independent oversight and enforceable guidelines.
  • Ban the practice of any law enforcement agency benefiting from civil asset forfeiture.  Limit or eliminate federal criminal justice funding for any state or locality that does not comply.
  • Provide funding to states and municipalities to create civilian corps of unarmed first responders, such as social workers, EMTs, and trained mental health professionals, who can handle order maintenance violations, mental health emergencies, and low-level conflicts outside the criminal justice system, freeing police officers to concentrate on the most serious crimes.
  • Incentivize access to counseling and mental health services for officers.
  • Diversify police forces and academies and incentivize officers to live and work in the communities they serve.
  • Triple national spending on indigent defense, to $14 billion annually.
  • After a review of current salaries and workload, set a minimum starting salary for all public defenders.
  • Create and set a national formula to assure populations have a minimum number of public defenders to assure full access to constitutional right to due process.
  • Establish federal guidelines and goals for a right to counsel, including policies that reduce the number of cases overall.
  • Create a federal agency to provide support and oversight for state public defense services.
  • Authorize the Department of Justice to take legal action against jurisdictions that are not meeting their Sixth Amendment obligations.
  • Cancel all existing student debt and cancel any future student debt for public defenders through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
  • Rescind former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ orders on prosecutorial discretion and low-level offenses.
  • Appoint an Attorney General committed to public safety and creating a more just and humane criminal justice system.
  • Limit “absolute immunity” for prosecutors, which is used to shield wrongdoers from liability.
  • End the practice of jailing material witnesses.
  • Place a moratorium on the use of the algorithmic risk assessment tools in the criminal justice system until an audit is completed. We must ensure these tools do not have any implicit biases that lead to unjust or excessive sentences.
  • Abolish the death penalty.
  • Reverse the Trump administration’s guidance on the use of death penalty drugs with the goal of ending the death penalty at the state level.
  • Stop excessive sentencing with the goal of cutting the incarcerated population in half.
  • End mandatory sentencing minimums.
  • Reinstate a federal parole system and end truth-in-sentencing. People serving long sentences will undergo a “second look” process to make sure their sentence is still appropriate.
  • End “three strikes” laws. No one should spend their life behind bars for committing minor crimes, even if they commit several of them.
  • Invigorate and expand the compassionate release process so that people with disabilities, the sick and elderly are transitioned out of incarceration whenever possible.
  • Expand the use of sentencing alternatives, including community supervision and publicly funded halfway houses. This includes funding state-based pilot programs to establish alternatives to incarceration, including models based on restorative justice and free access to treatment and social services.
  • Revitalize the executive clemency process by creating an independent clemency board removed from the Department of Justice and placed in White House.
  • Stop the criminalization of homelessness and spend more than $25 billion over five years to end homelessness. This includes doubling McKinney-Vento homelessness assistance grants to build permanent supportive housing, and $500 million to provide outreach to homeless people to help connect them to available services. In the first year of this plan, 25,000 Housing Trust Fund units will be prioritized for housing the homeless.
  • Legalize marijuana and vacate and expunge past marijuana convictions, and ensure that revenue from legal marijuana is reinvested in communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs.
  • Provide people struggling with addiction with the health care they need by guaranteeing health care — including inpatient and outpatient substance abuse and mental health services with no copayments or deductibles — to all people as a right, not a privilege, through a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program.
  • Decriminalize possession of buprenorphine, which helps to treat opioid addiction, and ensure that first responders carry naloxone to prevent overdoses.
  • Legalize safe injection sites and needle exchanges around the country, and support pilot programs for supervised injection sites, which have shown to substantially reduce drug overdose deaths.
  • Raise the threshold for when drug charges are federalized, as federal charges carry longer sentences.
  • Work with states to fund and pursue innovative overdose prevention initiatives.
  • Institute a full review of the current sentencing guidelines and end the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine.
  • Ban the prosecution of children under the age of 18 in adult courts.
  • Work to ensure that all juvenile facilities are designed for rehabilitation and growth.
  • Ensure youth are not jailed or imprisoned for misdemeanor offenses.
  • Ensure juveniles are not be housed in adult prisons.
  • End solitary confinement for youth.
  • Abolish long mandatory minimum sentences and life-without-parole sentences for youth.
  • Eliminate criminal charges for school-based disciplinary behavior that would not otherwise be criminal and invest in school nurses, counselors, teachers, teaching assistants, and small class sizes to address disciplinary issues.
  • Ensure every school has the necessary school counselors and wrap-around services by providing $5 billion annually to expand the sustainable community school model.
  • End the use of juvenile fees.
  • Decriminalize truancy for all youth and their parents.
  • Eliminate federal incentives for schools to implement zero-tolerance policies.
  • Invest in local youth diversion programs as alternatives to the court and prison system.
  • Work with teachers, school administrators, and the disability rights movement to end restraint and seclusion discipline in schools.
    • Ending solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is a form of torture and unconstitutional, plain and simple.
    • Access to free medical care in prisons and jails, including professional and evidence-based substance abuse and trauma-informed mental health treatment.
    • Incarcerated trans people have access to all the health care they need.
    • Access to free educational and vocational training. This includes ending the ban on Pell Grants for all incarcerated people without any exceptions.
    • Living wages and safe working conditions, including maximum work hours, for all incarcerated people for their labor.
    • The right to vote. All voting-age Americans must have the right and meaningful access to vote, whether they are incarcerated or not. We will re-enfranchise the right to vote to the millions of Americans who have had their vote taken away by a felony conviction.
    • Ending prison gerrymandering, ensuring incarcerated people are counted in their communities, not where they are incarcerated.
    • Establishment of an Office of Prisoner Civil Rights and Civil Liberties within the Department of Justice to investigate civil rights complaints from incarcerated individuals and provide independent oversight to make sure that prisoners are housed in safe, healthy, environments.
    • Protection from sexual abuse and harassment, including mandatory federal prosecution of prison staff who engage in such misconduct.
    • Access to their families — including unlimited visits, phone calls, and video calls.
    • A determination for the most appropriate setting for people with disabilities and safe, accessible conditions for people with disabilities in prisons and jails.
    • Make expungement broadly available.
    • Remove legal and regulatory barriers and facilitate access to services so that people returning home from jail or prison can build a stable and productive life.
    • Create a federal agency responsible for monitoring re-entry.
    • “Ban the box” by removing questions regarding conviction histories from job and other applications.
    • Enact fair chance licensing reform to remove unfair restrictions on occupational licensure based on criminal history.
    • Increase funding for re-entering youth programs. We will also pass a massive youth jobs program to provide jobs and job-training opportunities for disadvantaged young Americans who face high unemployment rates.
    • Guarantee safe, decent, affordable housing.
    • Remove the profit motive from our re-entry system and diversion, community supervision, or treatment programs, and ensure people leaving incarceration or participating in diversion, community supervision, or treatment programs can do so free of charge.
    • Guarantee jobs and free job training at trade schools and apprenticeship programs.
    • Focus law enforcement resources to dramatically increase the solve rate of the most serious offenses, such as shootings, homicides, and sexual assaults.
    • Fund Cure Violence and similar proven effective violence interruption models to stop violent incidents before they begin.
    • Fund programs for people who are at serious risk of being either the perpetrator or victim of gun violence, provide non-law enforcement-led services including job training and placement assistance, education, and help covering basic needs such as housing, food, and transportation.
    • Provide funding to end the national rape kit backlog and institute new rules requiring that rape kits be tested and that victims are provided with updates on the status of their rape kits.
    • Address gender-based violence on college campuses by reversing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ decision to weaken Title IX protections. We will protect and enforce Title IX.
    • Guarantee mental health care to people with disabilities as a human right, including all the supports and services needed to stay in the community. Mental health care, under Medicare for All, will be free at the point of service, with no copayments or deductibles which can be a barrier to treatment. The plan will also provide home- and community-based long-term services and supports to all and cover prescription drugs.
    • Train, recruit, and increase the number of mental health providers to provide culturally competent care in underserved communities.
    • Guarantee that people with disabilities have safe, accessible, and integrated affordable housing.
    • People with disabilities deserve jobs that pay a living wage. It’s time to end the subminimum wage and guarantee truly integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
    • Triple Title I funding, expand the IDEA, and make other major investments in public K-12 education as outlined in the Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education and Educators. Crucially, the plan will provide mandatory funding to ensure that the federal government provides at least 50 percent of the funding for IDEA and guarantee children with disabilities an equal right to high-quality education by enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
    • Guarantee tuition- and debt-free public colleges, universities, trade schools, and apprenticeship programs and the end equity gap in higher education attainment for people with disabilities by ensuring all our students get the help they need so they are ready for college and receive the support they need when they are in college.
    • Increase educational opportunities for persons with disabilities, including an expansion in career and technical education opportunities to prepare students for good-paying community employment.

There’s more than that, but there’s not much of it that I can’t get behind 100%. Let’s hope this pushes the other candidates to push for similar reforms. It’s time we made a serious effort to fix our racist and corrupt justice system once and for all, not just band-aid fixes every now and then.


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