Biden Plan Reverses Part of 1994 Bill 07/23 06:25
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Joe Biden plans to propose a criminal justice
agenda that would reverse key provisions of the 1994 crime bill that he helped
write as a senator and that his rivals for the Democratic presidential
nomination have blamed for the mass incarceration of racial minorities since
Most notably, the former vice president is endorsing an end to the disparity
that placed stricter sentencing terms on offenses involving crack versus powder
cocaine as well as an end to the federal death penalty, which the 1994 crime
bill authorized as a potential punishment for an increasing number of crimes.
The criminal justice policy, which Biden plans to outline Tuesday during an
appearance in New Orleans, comes as he works to reinforce his support among
African American voters. The timing is important, especially after rival
California Sen. Kamala Harris impugned Biden's civil rights record during last
month's Democratic presidential debates. It also comes as Biden prepares for
next week's presidential debates , when he will face Harris and New Jersey Sen.
Cory Booker, both of whom have sharply criticized his role in the Clinton-era
Biden campaign chairman Cedric Richmond called the plan "the most
forward-leaning criminal justice policy proposed." Richmond, a Louisiana
representative and former public defender, praised it for building on Virginia
Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott's SAFE Justice Act, which would reserve prison
space for violent offenders and offer a wider range of non-prison sentencing
alternatives. Scott's bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by other members of the
Congressional Black Caucus.
By building on Scott's bill, Biden, who represented Delaware in the U.S.
Senate for decades, is moving significantly to the left but not quite as far as
endorsing the type of sweeping overhaul championed by Booker. Booker unveiled a
proposal this year that would go beyond the criminal justice measure that
President Donald Trump signed into law last year by slashing mandatory minimum
And Biden's shift on the death penalty also puts him in line with every
other Democratic presidential candidate except for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
It's a stark change of Biden's previous approach to the issue: Touting the
toughness of the crime bill in 1992, the then-Senate Judiciary Committee
chairman joked that it would do "everything but hang people for jaywalking."
Biden's plan would seek to create a $20 billion grant program to encourage
states to reduce incarceration by increasing spending on child abuse
prevention, education and literacy, as long as states eliminate mandatory
minimum sentencing for nonviolent crimes.
He also would expand the Justice Department's role in rooting out
institutional misconduct by police departments and prosecutors and would
establish an independent task force to study prosecutorial discretion in an
attempt to head off racial and ethnic discrimination.
The plan also includes spending $1 billion annually on changes in the
juvenile justice system and identifies as a goal that all former inmates have
access to housing when they leave prison.
Biden also plans to seek a renewed ban on assault weapons, an element of the
1994 crime bill he continues to promote, and a ban on high-capacity ammunition
Trump, a Republican, tweeted in May while championing his own criminal
justice measure that "anyone associated with the 1994 Crime Bill will not have
a chance of being elected. In particular, African Americans will not be able to
vote for you."
Since the last debate, Biden has focused his campaign speeches on his stint
as vice president and has aggressively proposed policies in recent weeks that
build on gains in President Barack Obama's administration, including criminal
Booker has hinted that he would renew his criticisms of Biden's lead role on
the 1994 crime bill when the two candidates share the stage during the second
set of Democratic presidential debates in Detroit next week. The legislation
that Biden passed "put mass incarceration on steroids," Booker told CBS on
Harris, too, has criticized Biden's role in the 1994 bill. However, Biden
plans to note during his speech Tuesday his time as a public defender before
entering politics in the early 1970s.
Although Biden advisers say it's not a subtle shot at Harris, who has been
criticized by criminal justice reform advocates as being too tough on the
accused during her tenures as the San Francisco district attorney and as
California's attorney general before she was elected senator.
Harris has answered those criticisms by saying she supports major changes to
federal criminal justice.