Criminal Justice Reform


Restoration of Voting Rights for Felons

It has been common practice in the United States to make felons ineligible to vote. In 16 states and the District of Columbia felons lose their voting rights only when incarcerated, and receive automatic restoration upon release. In 21 states, felons lose their voting rights during incarceration, and for a period of time after, typically while on parole and/or probation.In 11 states felons lose their voting rights indefinitely for some crimes, or require a governor’s pardon in order for voting  rights to be restored.

Biden supports voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals. Sanders supports allowing people to vote also while incarcerated.

The Federal Government and Private Prisons

US private prisons incarcerate 8.2% of the total state and federal prison population.
The Sentencing Project found that between 2000 and 2016, “the number of people housed in private prisons increased five times faster than the total prison population.” According to the Detention Watch Network, more than 70 percent of immigration detainees are held in facilities operated by private companies. Democrats take issue with companies profiting from incarceration, which they argue incentivizes imprisonment and cost cutting at the facilities. Private prisons experience more safety and security issues compared to government-run ones, according to a 2016 Justice Department inspector general’s report.

Sanders and Biden believe the federal government should stop using private prisons.

The Elimination of Mandatory Minimums in Federal Sentencing

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 established minimum sentences for drug possession, including a five-year minimum for five grams of crack. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws force a judge to hand down a minimum prison sentence based on the charges a prosecutor brings against a defendant which result in a conviction — usually a guilty plea. Many states have such laws. These laws take away from a judge the traditional and proper authority to account for the actual circumstances of the crime and the characteristics of the individual defendant when imposing a sentence. About 45 percent of federal inmates were imprisoned on drug offenses as of Jan.10. The First Step Act eased some mandatory minimums, but Democrats argue they should be further reduced or eliminated altogether.

Biden and Sanders support elimination of mandatory minimums in federal sentencing.

Cash Bail Reform

After an arrest — wrongful or not — a person’s ability to leave jail and return home to fight the charges depends on money. That’s because, in most states, people are required to pay cash bail. Originally, bail was supposed to make sure people return to court to face charges against them. But instead, the money bail system has morphed into widespread wealth-based incarceration.Candidates who advocate ending the cash bail system argue it disproportionately affects low-income Americans — those who can’t afford to post bond and  thus face the choice of accepting a plea deal out of desperation (despite being innocent), remaining in jail until their trial (which could take months or even years) or being beholden to a bail bondsman.

Sanders and Biden advocate ending the cash bail system.

Capital Punishment/Death Penalty

Opposition to the death penalty is at its highest point according to Gallup polling.
While fifty six percent continue to support capital punishment for individuals convicted of murder, a majority of Americans say life without parole is a better punishment than the death penalty.  Democrats argue that the death penalty is unfairly applied. In addition, new technologies have exonerated death row inmates.

Biden and Sanders support abolishing capital punishment/death penalty.

Cocaine Sentencing Disparities

A 1986 drug bill instituted different sentencing guidelines for two different forms of the same drug – cocaine. As a result of the legislation, those arrested for offenses involving crack cocaine faced much steeper punishments than those using powder cocaine. This disparity has affected Black Americans at much higher rates than other groups. Some candidates argue that the sentencing disparity (now 18:1) between crack cocaine and powder cocaine should be eliminated. A bipartisan criminal justice reform bill, The First Step Act,  was signed into law in December 2018. In 2019 Senator Cory Booker introduced a bill called The Next Step Act. His bill would eliminate the disparity from 18:1 to 1:1.

Biden and Sanders support scrapping the disparity.

UPDATED August 11 2020

Kamala Harris, Vice President Candidate 2020
Kamala’s Plan to Transform the Criminal Justice System and Re-Envision Public Safety in America

  1. End Mass Incarceration and Invest Resources into Evidence and Community-Based Programs that Reduce Crime and Help Build Safe and Healthy Communities –  Make significant federal investments in policies that would end mass incarceration and especially into evidence-based, non-carceral social supports and programs at the state and local level to improve public safety and reduce violence.  End the “War on Drugs”. Legalizing marijuana. Invest money in states to significantly reduce the incarceration of women convicted of non-violent offenses. Sentencing Reform. End the use of private prisons. Create a bureau of Children and Family Justice. Promote Rehabilitation and Reintegration.
  2. Law Enforcement’s Primary Mission is to Serve and Protect Communities. It Should Instill Trust and Be Accountable to the Communities It Serves – Establish Law Enforcement Trust & Accountability. Create a National Police Systems Review Board. Have independent investigations of officer-involved shootings. Double the size of the Civil Rights Division. Prioritize mental health informed responses
  3. The System Must Treat Individuals Equitably and Humanely  – Stop criminalizing poverty. End suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid fines. Humane Treatment of Prisoners. Keep families intact.
  4. The System Must Protect Vulnerable People  Clear nationwide rape kit backlog. Protect consumers against fraud and fight for victims’ rights.





Democratic candidates broadly support voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals ( Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Gabbard, Klobucher, Patrick, Steyer, and Warren),  but only a few support allowing people to vote while incarcerated ( Yang).
All of the Democratic candidates believe the federal government should stop using private prisons.
All of the Democratic candidates support eliminating mandatory minimums in federal sentencing.
Buttigieg, Gabbard,  Patrick,  Steyer, and Warren advocate ending the cash bail system. Bloomberg, Klobuchar, and Yang believe you should reform or reduce it. Andrew Yang and Michael Bloomberg have called for providing states with incentives to reduce reliance on cash bail. Yang proposes  a federal pre-trial services system instead. Bloomberg recommends rewards for jurisidictions that adopt risk assessment tools to give judges greater discretion.
All of the Democratic candidates support abolishing capital punishment/death penalty.
Steyer support scrapping the disparity. Bloomberg,  Buttigieg, Gabbard, Klobucher, Warren and Yang have yet to state a position .

The Primaries Have Begun

The Iowa caucus is today, Monday, Feb 3.The next debate will be this Friday February 7 and only 7 candidates have qualified: Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Klobucher, Yang and Steyer. Though candidates can also qualify by earning at least one delegate in the Iowa Caucus today.

Next week, Tuesday February 11, will be New Hampshire‘s Primary.  Nevada follows with their primary; Saturday Feb. 22.  South Carolina closes the month with their primary; Saturday Feb. 29. My first post for the 2020 Elections explains what’s at stake in each state. What will their primary results tell us?


Next Post: Grief, Carnage and Gun Control

About Debra29

I am a retired public school teacher who believes that a strong democracy rests on the shoulders of its citizens. This blog was created as a central resource of civic engagement. Together, we can make a difference. Follow me on Twitter: Determined@2AlterTheCourse
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