Biden Gets Low Marks For ‘Missed Opportunities’ on Justice Reform

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Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Justice reform advocates say they are “dissatisfied” with the Biden administration’s progress, arguing that even some of the easier pledges the president made on the campaign trail have gone unfulfilled, according to a survey released by Law 360. 

Biden issued more than 100 criminal justice reform promises, including ending mandatory minimum prison sentences, scrapping the federal death penalty, and eliminating cash bail. 

Law360 surveyed 13 advocacy organizations to gauge his progress. Seven gave Biden a grade of “D” or “F” for his policy and legislative actions in his first year, and the majority of respondents reported being “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with his reform progress.

Only three organizations said his overall progress was “above average” or “very good” and two groups said his progress was “average.”

On drug reform, for example, Maritza Perez, director of the Drug Policy Alliance‘s Office of National Affairs, said the president’s actions contradicted his promises.

“This is a president who has said that he thinks that drug use is a public health issue and it should not be addressed through the criminal legal system, yet one of the first things that he puts out on criminal justice is legislative text that would essentially put more people under the legal system and in jail and in prison,” Perez told Law360, noting Biden’s proposal to Congress for cracking down on fentanyl, a highly addictive opioid.

Similarly, despite Biden’s promises to reduce it, NPR reported that the federal prison population has increased by about 5,000 people under President Biden.

‘Missed Opportunities’

Advocates said Biden missed several opportunities to solidify his pledges, such as raising the number of people granted clemency, and dispelling the narrative that justice reforms will lead to more crime.

“With the rise of shootings and homicides over the past two years, criminal justice reform is facing strong headwinds and opposition from law enforcement, prosecutors, and ‘law and order’ elected officials,” Vera Institute of Justice’s Vice President of Advocacy and Partnerships Insha Rahman told pollsters.

“They have seized the narrative to make it seem that arrests, prosecution, courts and incarceration are the only ways to produce public safety.” 

Aamra Ahmad, a poll participant and senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, told Law360 that she has lost hope in Biden’s ability to push new reforms in his first year in office considering he didn’t grant clemency to people released on home confinement during the pandemic.

“The easiest issue for him to have tackled coming into office was granting clemency to people who are on home confinement under the CARES Act,” Ahmad told Law360. 

“These were people who were released under Trump administration policies and have a proven track record now that they’ve been released of abiding by the law and the rules of home confinement,” Ahmad concluded. “If he can’t help those people, then I’m concerned as to who he can help and what policies he will adopt.”

Is Change Coming? 

A spokesperson for the White House did not respond to a request for comment about Biden’s progress on criminal justice reform, according to Law360. 

But in what may have been a tacit acknowledgement of critics’ charges, Biden spoke told a Fall 2021 South Carolina State University Commencement, that he was disappointed his administration hasn’t done more to “advance fairness and equity in law enforcement.

But in the same keynote address he insisted his criminal justice reform record was showed he was on track, the Washington Post reported.

“On criminal justice reform, we need it from top to bottom.”

Additional Reading: Critics say Biden is ‘Tinkering’ With Criminal Justice Reform

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