Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled Sunday a criminal justice overhaul to “reform every aspect of America’s dysfunctional criminal justice system” by ending “for-profit greed” in the system, expanding inmates’ rights and changing how policing works in the country.
According to the plan, if elected president, Sanders – who has long campaigned on ending for-profit prisons – would ban cash bail and civil asset forfeiture, as well as increase the number of public defenders and funding for them to better serve certain communities, according to the plan. He would also enact a “Prisoner Bill of Rights” for incarcerated people that includes rights to living wages and educational training, as well as the right to vote.
Sanders proposes his latest plan amid an election cycle in which the country’s criminal justice system and mass incarceration are critical issues for candidates and voters, particularly people of color. The comprehensive plan, which was rolled out on the same day that Sanders made several campaign stops in Columbia, South Carolina, could provide fodder for the Vermont independent as he looks to court African-American voters in battleground states and elsewhere. At a town hall on Sunday, the candidate billed the plan as “perhaps the boldest criminal justice reform package in the history of United States politics.”
As part of his proposed criminal justice overhaul, Sanders aims to change the way policing works by “creating an unarmed civilian corp of first responders” that would respond to “low-level” issues like homelessness and mental health emergencies. He would also work to reduce the number of incidents of excessive police force by creating national standards for police that “emphasize de-escalation rather than violence.”
Additionally, Sanders would work to abolish the death penalty and solitary confinement, raise the age to charge children in adult courts to 18, legalize marijuana and “(expunge) past convictions for marijuana-related offenses.” Sanders, according to the plan, would also set “a goal of cutting the incarcerated population in half.”
Several other candidates have detailed how they would change aspects of the criminal justice system, including former Vice President Joe Biden, who in July proposed a $20 billion grant program aimed at pressuring states to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes. Last month, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, released his racial justice plan that, among other things, would seek to reduce incarceration by 50% at the state and federal level and abolish private federal prisons.
CNN’s Annie Grayer, Donald Judd, Caroline Kenny and Eric Bradner contributed to this report.