Bernie Sanders Unveils Criminal Justice Reform Plan

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a U.S. Presidential Candidates Forum.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

On Sunday, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders unveiled a comprehensive plan for criminal justice reform, The Washington Post reports.

During a town hall in Columbia, South Carolina, the White House hopeful described his set of proposals as “perhaps the boldest criminal justice reform package in the history of United States politics.”

Sanders began his remarks by pointing out that the United States, although it is the wealthiest country in the world, has more people imprisoned than “any other major country.” The Senator argued that the criminal justice system is inherently racist, pointing out that it disproportionately affects racial minorities and the poor.

“We are the wealthiest country in the history of the world. That’s a fact. Yet we have more people in jail and in the criminal justice system — on probation and on parole — by far, ain’t even close, than any other major country on Earth.. . . And the folks that we have in jail are disproportionately poor, disproportionately minority — African American, Latino, Native American.”

As The Washington Post notes, Sanders’ criminal justice plan would also allow inmates to vote.

The White House hopeful first said that he believes incarcerated individuals should have the right to vote during a town hall earlier this year, prompting controversy.

Sanders’ criminal justice plan says that “all voting-age Americans must have the right and meaningful access to vote, whether they are incarcerated or not.”

Other top candidates have already released their own criminal justice reform plans. Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden have all done so, signaling that criminal justice reform will become a major issue in the Democratic primary.

Sanders’ plan, “Justice and Safety for All,” would — according to the senator’s official campaign website, berniesanders.com — ban for-profit prisons, make communications (prison phone calls, video chats) free of charge, end price gouging, end cash bail, and more.

If elected president, Sanders would also seek to “transform” the way communities across the United States are policed, his campaign website states.

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The Vermont senator would tackle the militarization of police forces, create a database of police use of deadly force, establish oversight agencies and provide funding for civilian oversight agencies, mandate criminal liability for police misconduct, ban the use of facial recognition software, and seek to address “systemic constitutional violations by police departments” across the country.

Sanders’ comprehensive criminal justice reform plan would seek to end the war on drugs and mass incarceration, abolish the death penalty, improve prison conditions, ensure that former inmates have rights to social programs, provide support for survivors of crime, and invest in American communities in order to create jobs and curb crime.

Sanders has unveiled dozens of ambitious policy proposals since entering the crowded Democratic primary field, but former Vice President Joe Biden remains the absolute front-runner. According to a RealClearPolitics average of polling data, Biden holds a double-digit lead over Sanders.