Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled on Sunday a broad plan to overhaul the country’s criminal justice system that includes the goal of reducing the prison population by half.
Among the proposals, which Sanders
announced during a campaign stop in Columbia, SC, are putting an end to the
for-profit prison system, legalizing marijuana, ending the federal death
penalty and urging states to do the same, and banning the cash bail system,
which jails hundreds of thousands of poor people each year.
“America is now the world’s leading jailer. We lock up more
than 2 million people in America, which is more of our own people than any
country on Earth,” his campaign website states.
In South Carolina, Sanders acknowledged that people in U.S.
prisons are “disproportionately
poor, disproportionately minority — African American, Latino, Native
American,” The Washington Post reported.
Ahead of the plan’s public release, the Vermont senator told the
Associated Press that the U.S. justice system is “racist” and “needs
He announced his proposals at a
town hall in Columbia, before about 300 people.
Sanders wants to do away with “three strikes” laws and
expand alternative sentencing, according to the AP. Part of criminal justice
reform also would include better care for mental health issues, a major
contributor to the country’s burgeoning
Per the Sanders campaign:
Due to the historical legacy of institutional racism in this country, mass incarceration disproportionately falls on the shoulders of black and brown people in America. In fact, black Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of white Americans, and even though people use drugs like marijuana at roughly the same rates across all races, black Americans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Americans. These disparities pervade every aspect of the criminal justice system. Black Americans, and especially young black men, are more likely to be stopped by the police, subjected to excessive force, arrested, and jailed than whites.
If elected, Sanders
said he would work to hold law enforcement officers accountable by calling for
more oversight, particularly via the Justice Department. He would create a
federal database of deadly police shootings and establish federal standards for
the use of body cameras. He also would “mandate criminal liability for civil
rights violations resulting from police misconduct.”
would stop the absurd federal programs that provide military equipment to local
Sanders also said he
would ban for-profit prisons, which allow corporations to profit from “the
suffering of incarcerated people and their families.”
And he would finally
end the country’s so-called drug war, including expunging past marijuana
convictions and investing profits from legal marijuana sales in the communities
that were adversely affected by decades-old anti-drug strategies.
The plan also calls for more funding for health services to treat
addiction with no copays or deductibles through a proposed Medicare
for All program.
“We must end the school-to-prison
pipeline,” his campaign stated.
Sanders called his plan “perhaps
the boldest criminal justice reform package in the history of United States
politics,” according to the Post.
South Carolina follows Iowa and New Hampshire in next year’s
primaries, and about 55%
of the state’s Democratic electorate is black. As a presidential candidate
in 2016, Sanders struggled to connect with black voters, the newspaper noted.
Other 2020 Democratic candidates that have
unveiled criminal justice reform proposals in recent months include Sens.
Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, and former Vice President Joe Biden.