On Tuesday former vice president Joe Biden released his plan to overhaul the criminal justice system if he makes it to the White House. However, his new plan stands in direct opposition to the 1994 crime bill he has so devoutly supported over the years, proving once more that he is rather fickle on his policies and may change his views on them at a moment’s notice.
However, the former VP defends himself by saying, “Like every major change, you go back and make it better.” He has decided to stick with certain parts on the bill, such as the ban on assault weapons and the early version of the Violence Against Women Act but plans to make significant changes to other areas. He says, “It worked in some areas, but it failed in others.”
According to many, including his Democratic opponents and President Donald Trump, the 1994 legislation, in partnership with other anti-crime bills of that time, are the main reason we have so many problems with our justice system. While it allowed for crime to dissipate considerably, it also raised mass incarceration, particularly among black men.
Biden claims this is just “another part of my long record that is being grossly misinterpreted.”
So just what does his new plan call for and how does that contrast to the 1994 crime bill?
One of the major components of the “Biden Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice” is to cut back on the number of those incarcerated by eliminating the mandatory minimum sentencing for drug charges, something that Biden backed at one time by partnering with the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984.
Biden also supported the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse act, which he is now contesting. The legislation would change how federal crack and powder cocaine charges are distributed.
While most Democrats are in full support of marijuana’s legalization, Biden’s plan differs slightly as he wants cannabis to be decriminalized in addition to all former marijuana convictions being expunged. He says, “we need more research to study the positive and negative impacts of cannabis use.”
When it comes to federal charges, Biden wants to get rid of the death penalty. Again, this is something he supported under the 1994 crime bill. He reasons that most death penalties take place at the state level, leaving federal executions rarely handed out and therefore, unnecessary.
In addition, Biden is seeking to end the use of all private prisons on the federal level as well as almost entirely getting rid of solitary confinement.
The new plan would give states $20 billion in grants to increase the reduction of crime in cities and counties, therefore also reducing the number of incarcerations. However, to receive such funding, the state or local government will need to get rid of the mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent crimes.
According to Biden’s campaign official, he would also “continue the tradition” of using clemency power to reduce incarcerations for certain non-violent and drug-related crimes. This is something Obama used extensively and, as such, his biggest fan would like to continue it.
A growing concern for many is to “address systemic misconduct in police departments and prosecutors’ offices.” Biden’s plan will implement more demands on consent decrees, allow for the expanding of Department of Justice investigations, and give more resources to public defenders’ offices. In addition, he will create a task force outside of the Justice Department that will examine and offer recommendations to address possible discrimination in the justice system.
One of the significant divergences from many of his opponents’ criminal justice overhaul plans is Biden’s $1 billion annual investment for “juvenile justice.” According to campaign officials, this will be used to care for and serve juvenile offenders held at the state level.
Biden claims these changes are a way to make up for the “big mistake” of putting the 1994 crime bill into effect that “trapped an entire generation.” However, many see this as last chance effort to win more African American votes and that it’s too little, too late. Biden’s opponent, Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey, is one of those. One of his substantial grievances against Biden is that it has taken him too long to apologize for the 1994 legislation that he so ardently pushed for in the past.