Can Biden-Harris Fulfill an Ambitious Justice Reform Agenda?

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Photo by Adam Schultz / Biden for President via Flickr.

Reducing mass incarceration, expanding government oversight of local police and prosecutorial misconduct, juvenile justice reform, and increasing the rights and resources for the formerly incarcerated top the criminal justice reform agenda for the Biden-Harris administration.

The U.S. justice system is for the most part administered at the state, county and municipal level, but the federal government can help set priorities.

The success of the administration’s agenda will depend on its ability to command bipartisan support in a climate that looks likely to again be sharply divided.

As the media turn to examine the details of the incoming administration’s plans, many are also noting the constraints.

With a Senate Democratic majority likely out of reach, President-elect Joe Biden will have to drum up old Senate friendships to push Democratic legislation forward, Politico reports.

Banner by Thomas Cizauskas via Flickr.

Ending Mass Incarceration

Biden has pledged to allocate billions of dollars of funding toward a grant program aimed at promoting crime prevention within state and local governments that get to the root of the source of crime: poor neighborhoods, child abuse, and limited education access, according to the Biden-Harris Transition plan. 

Biden says he could reduce the U.S. prison population by more than half by prioritizing “redemption and rehabilitation” over punishment. To do this, Biden says that he will “end the federal government’s use of private prisons,” which would build off an Obama-Biden Administration policy that the Trump Administration rescinded.

The Biden-Harris Administration also pledges to end mass incarceration by eliminating the racial disparities that plague the system, and by “ensuring fair sentences” so individuals do not spend a majority of their life behind bars, the Transition Plan outlines.

“Our criminal justice system cannot be just unless we root out the racial, gender, and income-based disparities in the system,” the plan declares.

Police Reform and Oversight

Biden has made clear that he would not support defunding the police. Instead, he has  “pledged to invest $300 million in programs that build community policing.”

Among the measures contemplated in the area of police reform are:

      • A nationwide ban on chokeholds;
      • Stopping the transfer of weapons of war to police forces;
      • Improving oversight and accountability, to create a model use of force standard; and,
      • Creating a national police oversight commission.

To build on these reforms, the Biden-Harris Administration would also direct the Justice Department to focus on prosecuting hate crimes. The plan also advocates for an increase in federal funding to go towards public defenders’ offices as well, NPR details.

Juvenile Justice

Biden’s campaign website notes that his Administration would prioritize juvenile justice reform as a way to help the children of our nation “live up to their potential.”

To make this possible, the Biden-Harris Administration will invest $1 billion per year to juvenile justice reform, mostly funded into grant programs and helping children get the legal representation they need, as well as expunging appropriate records to help the child reintegrate.

Biden has  promised to expand tools for educational institutions to end the school-to- prison pipeline and add funding for “after-school programs, community centers, and summer jobs to keep young people active, busy, learning, and having fun.”

Moreover, the campaign website notes that these policies have been developed with the help of children and young adults who were formerly incarcerated as children — proving to many that President-elect Biden is willing to listen to the people who are most impacted by these policies.

Offering Second Chances

“After incarcerated individuals serve their time, they should have the opportunity to fully reintegrate into society, earn a good living, and participate in our democracy as our fellow citizens,” Biden’s campaign website states.

His platform continues: “It will not only benefit them; it will benefit all of society.”

To reduce recidivism, the Biden Administration would set a national goal of ensuring that “100 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals have housing upon reentry.”

To make this happen, he’ll start by directing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to “only contract with entities that are open to housing individuals looking for a second chance.”

In addition to that, the Biden Administration will expand the funding for transitional housing which was drastically cut by the Trump Administration.

The Biden-Harris administration would also act to expand access to mental and substance use disorder heal treatment, as well as increasing education opportunities and job training for individuals during and after incarceration.

By eliminating many of the barriers that prevent formerly incarcerated individuals to get their life back, Biden’s campaign website says this will help individuals being to fully participate in their society again, while “strengthening America’s commitment to justice.”

The full Biden-Harris Transition plan “Build Back Better” can be accessed here. 

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