President-Elect Joe Biden’s Criminal Justice Plan

President-Elect Joe Biden’s Criminal Justice Plan

By Bellevue’s Julie Platt

During the Presidential transition, Bellevue Strategies will be spotlighting President-elect Joe Biden’s different policy platforms that will impact our clients. Although many of these plans may not become law, they give us an understanding of how the President-elect will govern.


This week we will be focusing on President-elect Biden’s criminal justice plans.


If you have any suggestions for what you like us to cover, please email Julie Platt.


Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been elected on the most progressive criminal justice platform of any major party candidate in generations. During his presidential election, Joe Biden promised to end private prisons, cash bail, mandatory-minimum sentencing, and the death penalty. 


In Summary: President-elect Biden may be hamstrung in enacting many of his policies if the Senate remains in Republican control. However, there are still many areas that a Biden administration can impact. A significant area where Biden can have an impact is in our juvenile justice system by reinvesting in the agency, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protections. Bellevue hypothesized that his administration will work to reinstall some of Obama’s protections for this population that was dismantled by Trump, such as ensuring that juveniles’ records are expunged and prohibiting youth from being incarcerated in adult facilities. President-elect Biden can also use his bully pulpit to spotlight issues to bring public pressure on policies that are in the hands of the state such as cash bail and the death penalty. 


Biden’s administration can also impact federal sentencing guidelines such as mandatory minimums. To have a broad policy change would require an act of Congress, however, President-elect Biden could use his clemency power to shorten the sentence of anyone serving a mandatory minimum in federal prison.  


Ultimately, states play a larger role in criminal justice policy, but the federal government can get involved through its ability to set conditions for funding projects such as prison construction, police grants, and grants for research For example, he has pledged to set aside $20 billion in federal funding to states that adopt evidence-based crime prevention programs and invest in diversion programs. Biden can also withhold grants to states if they are not following certain guidelines on policing and criminal justice. 

Preventing Crime: Joe Biden’s administration will focus on shifting our county’s focus from incarceration to prevention. He will implement a $20 billion competitive grant program to incentivize states to shift policies from incarceration to prevention. States, counties, and cities will receive funding to invest in efforts proven to reduce crime and incarceration, including efforts to address some of the factors like illiteracy and child abuse that are correlated with incarceration.


To receive this funding, states will have to eliminate mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes, institute earned credit programs, and take steps to reduce incarceration rates. 


Biden’s plan also calls for expanding funding for mental health and substance abuse programs. Additionally, the Biden administration will fund initiatives to partner mental health and substance use disorder experts, social workers, and disability advocates with police departments. The goal is to train police officers in de-escalation tactics and also help police officers learn how to better approach individuals with certain disabilities, like those with autism or who are deaf. 

Disparities in our criminal justice system: President-elect Biden has committed to confronting racial and income-based disparities in our criminal justice system. The following are strategies Biden’s administration will use to address these disparities. 

  • Establish an independent task force on prosecutorial discretion. The Biden Administration will create a new task force, placed outside of the U.S. Department of Justice, to make recommendations for tackling discrimination and other problems in our justice system that results from arrest and charging decisions. 
  • Invest in public defenders’ offices. 
  • Eliminate mandatory minimums. Biden’s administration will need to work with Congress in order to eliminate mandatory minimums. 
  • Decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions
  • End all incarceration for drug use alone and instead divert individuals to drug courts and treatment.
  • Eliminate the death penalty.
  • Use the presidents’ clemency power to secure the release of individuals facing unduly long sentences for certain non-violent and drug crimes.

Policies to end the criminalization of poverty: An additional focus of President-elect Biden’s criminal justice plan is working to root out policies that punish individuals for being poor. His plan calls for ending cash bail which disproportionately harms low-income individuals. He will also call for policies to stop jailing people for being too poor to pay fines and fees such as speeding tickets and parking fees. He has said that he will use the grantmaking power of the federal government to incentivize the end of policies that incarcerate people for failing to pay fines and fees.


Incarcerated Women: Biden will condition receipt of federal criminal justice grants on adequate provision of primary care and gynecological care for women, including care for pregnant women. This is important as there has been a dramatic increase in incarcerated women in state and federal prisons. 


Juvenile Justice:The Biden-Harris Administration will invest $1 billion per year in juvenile justice reform through grant programs that incentivize state action. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act allows states to use funds for purposes such as providing children with legal representation and helping them seal and expunge records. Biden’s team will also create a new grant program to encourage states to (1) place non-violent youth in community-based alternatives to prison, and (2) repurpose empty prisons for the community’s benefit so they cannot be used in the future for detention. This initiative will begin as a $100 million pilot program in 15-30 states and counties. The Biden administration will also continue Obama-era policies to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. 

Supporting individuals on reentry: President Biden’s administration has made an ambitious goal of 100% of formerly incarcerated individuals at the state and federal level having housing upon release. His administration will direct the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to only contract with entities that are open to housing individuals looking for a second chance. Biden’s administration will also expand the use of drug courts. Lastly, Biden’s team will work to eliminate existing barriers that prevent formerly incarcerated individuals from being able to participate in society. His plan cites examples such as eliminating barriers keeping formerly incarcerated individuals from accessing public assistance such as SNAP, Pell grants, and housing support.

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