In Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, once a national model for incarceration, three Democratic candidates for president discussed improving the criminal justice system, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. N.J. Sen. Cory Booker thought the list of attendees was far too few, “Where are you today?” Booker asked his 15 absent opponents. “Where are you? Seriously. This is a major national crisis.” The Justice Votes 2020 Town Hall was organized by Voters Organized to Educate, a group of former inmates and the Marshall Project. Sen. Kamala Harris (CA), Booker, and billionaire Tom Steyer answered questions from MSNBC reporter Ari Melber and ex-inmates.
“The reason we wanted to do this today is for the public to understand … that we are not a throwaway population,” said the Rev. Vivian Nixon, who served time in New York and now helps run VOTE. Harris, who as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general established programs to help the formerly incarcerated, was asked if she thought she went too far as a prosecutor. She challenged Melber to find anyone else in the race who has had such a direct impact on the system. “What have they actually done?” she said. “And then I’m happy to talk more about my record.” Harris lamented the lack of quality job training in prison. “Not just woodshop,” she said. “We need to hire [the] formerly incarcerated and give them the certificates so they can do the jobs.” Steyer, a former hedge fund manager, once invested in private prisons, for which he has been criticized. Steyer’s company purchased $90 million of Corrections Corp. of America stock in 2004. Steyer regretted the deal and sold his stake in the company. Booker touted his time as mayor of Newark, N.J., when he set up youth and drug courts and the city’s first reentry office.