All of the serious 2020 Democratic primary candidates have some form of justice reform or prison reform on their agenda and now Bernie Sanders has joined their ranks. The Vermont Senator’s plan, while sparse on details, looks like an ambitious one. He plans on emptying half of the nation’s prison population and putting them back on the streets. He will also legalize pot and do away with all privately operated prisons. Assuming, of course, that he could get Congress to go along with any of this if he manages to get elected. (Associated Press)
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is proposing a criminal justice overhaul that aims to cut the nation’s prison population in half, end mandatory minimum sentencing, ban private prisons and legalize marijuana. He says the current system does not fairly treat people of color, addicts or the mentally ill.
“We have a system that imprisons and destroys the lives of millions of people,” Sanders told The Associated Press before the planned released of his proposal Sunday. “It’s racist in disproportionately affecting the African American and Latino communities, and it’s a system that needs fundamental change.”
Sanders was promoting the plan during a weekend of campaigning in South Carolina, where the majority of the Democratic electorate is African American.
All in all, the ideas Sanders is pitching here are fairly standard stock for Democrats on the furthest left wing of the party. The prison/jail reform ideas are particularly popular with black and Latino voters, an area where Sanders has been struggling in recent polls. (Curiously, Joe Biden seems to be doing the best with minority voters and he has no such radical proposals. Do you suppose they know that these candidates are unserious and are just pandering to them?)
If any reporters feel like taking the time to actually do their jobs, I’d love to hear them sit down with Sanders and ask exactly how one goes about dumping half of the country’s prison population back on the streets and what that would look like. What offenses should we stop locking people up for or release those currently incarcerated?
Marijuana is the favorite subject brought up when this question is asked, but letting out everyone imprisoned for possession isn’t going to put a dent in the total population. Even the WaPo was recently forced to admit that only 92 people received federal sentences for possession in 2017 (and they were “possessing” a lot, or already had lengthy records). Fully 99% of people imprisoned on drug charges are behind bars for trafficking, commonly in conjunction with related charges including gun crimes.
What other “non-violent” criminals can we let out in mass numbers? White-collar crimes? Those tend to be wealthier, frequently white people so that probably won’t go over very well. The next largest category of prisoners (covering more than 30K inmates) according to the Bureau of Prisons’ statistics, are in the crowbar motel for charges involving “Weapons, Explosives, and Arson.” Shall we just throw open the cells and let all of them go?
Seriously, if you think there is a way to release half of the prison population and stop locking so many people up, let’s hear your plan. The data is all out there for your use, Senator Sanders. Let America know which of these criminals you plan to dump back into our neighborhoods and how your law enforcement agencies will respond when most of them go back to their old ways.