Former vice president Joe Biden on Tuesday released a sweeping plan to reform the U.S. criminal-justice system, in an effort to quiet criticisms of his role in tightening crime laws decades ago as a senator, which critics say contributed to mass incarceration.
Biden’s plan involves reducing incarceration, eliminating race-, gender-, and income-based disparities in the justice system, and refocusing the system on “redemption and rehabilitation.”
The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination would create a $20 billion competitive grant program to incentivize states to prioritize prevention and rehabilitation over incarceration and take “steps to reduce incarceration rates without impacting public safety.”
The former Delaware senator has been taken to task over his support for the 1994 crime bill now associated with mass incarceration, which increased drug-related arrests, funded construction of new prisons, and toughened prison sentences.
“No one should be incarcerated for drug use alone,” the plan reads. “Instead, they should be diverted to drug courts and treatment.”
In a departure from his views during his Senate career, Biden said he would eliminate the death penalty at the federal level and encourage states to do the same. He also supports ending cash bail, scrapping mandatory minimum sentences, equalizing sentences for powder- and crack-cocaine offences, and decriminalizing the use of marijuana.
Biden also plans to invest $1 billion annually in juvenile-justice reform. In addition, only prisons that provide adequate primary and gynecological care to incarcerated women will be eligible for federal criminal-justice grants under the Biden plan.
Biden currently leads the pack of Democratic candidates by around 15 points, enjoying the support of around 33 percent of likely Democratic primary voters.