Biden: I’ll Scrap Federal Death Penalty

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Joe Biden. Photo by Adam Fagen via flickr

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden answered critics of his support for the 1994 federal crime law by proposing elimination of the federal death penalty and other changes at odds with the earlier legislation, the Washington Post reports.

Biden’s plan would also offer states incentives to abolish the death penalty, with death row prisoners receiving life-without-parole sentences instead.

Other provisions in Biden’s new policy proposal: decriminalize marijuana and expunge past cannabis-related convictions; end the disparity between sentences for powder and crack cocaine; do away with all incarceration for drug use alone; end cash bail; terminate the federal government’s use of private prisons.

It includes a provision to ensure that people who are imprisoned are treated humanely and that women in custody are provided health-care protections. The plan would invest $1 billion annually in juvenile justice reform, give states incentives to stop incarcerating minors, and create a $20 billion grant program to spur states to move from incarceration to crime prevention and eliminate mandatory-minimum sentences.

The release of Biden’s criminal justice plan comes about a week before the next round of televised Democratic primary debates, when his record is expected to come under renewed scrutiny. His support for the 1994 crime bill has been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats, who argue that it led to mass incarceration and tilted the system unfairly against African Americans.

He telegraphed earlier this month that he was reconsidering his support for capital punishment over his three decades in the Senate, telling a New Hampshire audience, “By the way, congratulations to y’all ending the death penalty here.”

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