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Liberal Reformers Give Biden D's and F's On Criminal Justice in 2021

President Biden's progress on criminal justice reform after nearly a year in office has dissatisfied some advocacy groups. During his presidential campaign, Biden made more than 100 criminal justice reform promises, including to end mandatory minimum prison sentences, stop use of the death penalty and eliminate cash bail. The president hasn't fulfilled these reforms or many of his other justice campaign promises, advocates say. In a Law360 poll of 13 organizations, seven organizations gave Biden a grade of "D" or "F" for his policy and legislative actions in his first year. The majority of respondents reported being "dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with his reform progress. Maritza Perez of the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs said Biden hasn't backed up his rhetoric on justice reform, made poor criminal justice policy decisions and didn't prioritize criminal justice reform.

"This is a president who has said that he thinks that drug use is a public health issue and it should not be addressed through the criminal legal system, yet one of the first things that he puts out on criminal justice is legislative text that would essentially put more people under the legal system and in jail and in prison," Perez said of Biden's proposal to Congress for cracking down on fentanyl, a highly addictive opioid. The 13 organizations were mixed on Biden's rhetoric on criminal justice reform. Roughly half of them gave the president a grade of "A" or "B" and the other half gave him a grade of "D" or "F." One organization gave his rhetoric a grade of "C." Advocates say that in Biden's first year, he missed several opportunities to make key reforms including ending unjust prison sentences through the clemency process and dispelling the narrative that justice reforms will lead to more crime. "With the rise of shootings and homicides over the past two years, criminal justice reform is facing strong headwinds and opposition from law enforcement, prosecutors and 'law and order' elected officials. They have seized the narrative to make it seem that arrests, prosecution, courts and incarceration are the only ways to produce public safety," said the Vera Institute of Justice's Insha Rahman.


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