Elizabeth Warren Unveils Plan To Repeal Controversial 1994 Crime Bill And End ‘School-To-Prison Pipeline’

Elizabeth Warren speaks at a campaign event.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Elizabeth Warren is laying out new, detailed plans for criminal justice reform that would repeal the controversial 1994 crime bill and end what she calls the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

The Massachusetts senator laid out the plans in an essay published on Medium, calling for greater investments in education and anti-poverty programs and decreasing incarceration levels. Warren said that greater efforts would go into crime prevention under her plan as well as bring changes to improve relations between police and communities and putting more effort toward keeping people from going back to jail after being released.

Warren noted that the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but close to 20 percent of the world prison population with more than 2 million people behind bars. She said that the criminal justice system in effect today is the result of a series of choices that have all targeted the “poor and disadvantaged.”

The plan would also eliminate the death penalty and end the cash bail system that experts say has a disproportionate impact on people affected by poverty.

“We will reduce incarceration and improve justice in our country by changing what we choose to criminalize, reforming police behavior and improving police-community relations, and reining in a system that preferences prosecution over justice,” she wrote. “When people are incarcerated, we will provide opportunities for treatment, education and rehabilitation, and we’ll continue those supports for returning citizens as they reenter our communities. Most importantly, we’ll rethink the way we approach public safety — emphasizing preventative approaches over law enforcement and incarceration. That’s the way we’ll create real law and order and real justice in our country.”

The 1994 crime bill, which was widely supported at the time it passed under President Bill Clinton, has been blamed for pushing harsh punishments on low-level drug offenses and targeting minorities.

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Warren wrote that the United States criminalizes too many things and sends too many people to jail while not doing enough to rehabilitate those who are imprisoned. She also explicitly called out the for-profit prison industry, saying that the United States spends billions to prop up a system meant to profit from mass incarceration. It would also decriminalize school truancy and eliminate policing in schools that turn infractions into criminal offenses, part of what Warren and experts call the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

As Politico reported, Warren unveiled the 6,535-word plan just ahead of a planned appearance at the Criminal Justice Reform Roundtable on Tuesday in Minneapolis, drawing attention to her campaign plans for justice reform. The report noted that Warren’s plan appears to differentiate her from front-runner Joe Biden, the architect of the 1994 crime bill, and Kamala Harris, the former California prosecutor turned U.S. Senator.