2020 Democratic candidates on criminal justice reform

Democratic candidates jump on criminal justice bandwagon

For most of the 80s and 90s, when my son was in and out of New York State prisons, I was oblivious to the workings of the criminal justice system.

Issues related to incarceration–excessive bail, mandatory sentencing, plea bargaining, racial disparities, prisoner health care, recidivism and a plethora of other practices and policies (since deemed unfair or inhumane)–held no meaning for me.

My focus was on supporting and advocating for my son

Only after his untimely death in Wende Correctional Facility in 1999, did I recognize the difficult and all-encompassing effects of his incarceration on both of us, our extended family, and his friends.

When I decided to write a book about my experiences, I began researching mass incarceration in the U.S., especially as it has affected African American families and communities. I soon realized that my son’s incarceration was the result not only of his choices, but also social and political factors.

This knowledge fueled my mission to seek reforms from sentencing through parole.

Today criminal justice reform is a hot button issue that both parties, President Trump, and the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates hope will garner them popular support.

Curious about the candidates’ positions on criminal justice reform, I found an overview of their platforms in “The Rolling Stone 2020 Democratic Primary Policy Guide” (July 10, 2019).

I selected the five top-ranked candidates (according “The RS Politics 2020 Democratic Primary Leaderboard” (July 9, 2019) for this blog post.

Former Vice-President Joe Biden:

  1. Reduce the number of people incarcerated…while also reducing crime;
  2. Root out racial, income, and gender disparities in the system;
  3. Focus on redemption and rehabilitation;
  4. Eliminate profiteering in the system.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

  1. Ban private prisons and detention facilities;
  2. Stop contractors from charging fees for essential services (e.g. phone calls, bank transfers, and healthcare);
  3. Expand oversight, transparency, and enforcement over private contractors.

Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT)

  1. Legalize marijuana;
  2. End cash bail, mandatory minimums, private prisons, and the death penalty.

Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA)

  1. Call for a federal moratorium on executions;
  2. Pardon those convicted of drug related crimes.

Pete Buttigieg, Mayor South Bend, IN

Under the theme of “Racial Justice,” Buttigieg’s Douglass Plan promises to:

  1. Redress inequality in our criminal justice system; and
  2. Dismantle the prison-industrial complex to end the crisis of mass incarceration.

Will these ambitious campaign promises bear fruit if one of them is elected?


I applaud all efforts to secure equal justice under the law. I have witnessed the harmful effects of incarceration that can linger long after a formerly incarcerated person is no longer in the custody of the state.

Without long-term, practical strategies to salvage and restore the lives of those touched by the criminal justice system, changing laws is but a first step.


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