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Bernie Sanders’ criminal justice plan would halve prison population, legalize pot

2019-08-18

Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday proposed a sweeping overhaul of the criminal justice system including measures to cut the prison population in half, end mandatory minimum sentencing and legalize marijuana.

“We have a system that imprisons and destroys the lives of millions of people,” Sanders told The Associated Press. “It’s racist in disproportionately affecting the African-American and Latino communities, and it’s a system that needs fundamental change.”

The Vermont senator said on his campaign website he would shift the criminal justice system from “an overly punitive approach” to one that focuses on preventing crime and rehabilitating “people who have made mistakes.”

Sanders vowed he would halve the prison population through measures including ending mandatory sentencing minimums.

He also promised to legalize pot and establish “safe injection sites,” stating on his website, “The disastrous policies that make up the War on Drugs have not reduced drug use and violent crime.

“We must use effective therapeutic, not punitive, solutions to address drug addiction.”

Since he first ran for president in 2016, Sanders, a self-described socialist, has pushed the mainstream of the Democratic Party to the left on a range of issues. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the frontrunner, proposed ending the death penalty, cash bail and privately run prisons last month ?— all measures that Sanders has previously supported, and which he repeated Sunday.

The U.S. had 1.5 million prisoners as of the end of 2017, 1.3 million of them under state jurisdiction and 183,000 in federal prisons, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Sanders decried the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a system described by civil rights advocates like Michelle Alexander, who argued that people of color are targeted from an early age.

The senator said he would ban prosecution of kids under 18 in adult courts and “invest in local youth diversion programs as alternatives to the court and prison system.”

He also vowed to “reverse the criminalization of disability,” noting “one in five inmates in prisons are people with a cognitive disability, while another one in five inmates have a serious mental illness,” according to the Department of Justice.

“Instead of incarceration, we should be providing people with disabilities with the services and supports they need to stay in the community, including mental health care and home and community-based services,” he stated. “Not only is it the right thing to do, but it costs significantly less.”

Both Biden and Sanders have come under fire for supporting the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which provided thousands of new cops and implemented mandatory life sentences for repeat offenders.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California has similarly faced criticism for her tough-on-crime stance when she was a prosecutor.

With News Wire Services