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Brennan Center Gives Biden Mixed Report On Criminal Justice Reform

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University gives the Biden administration a mixed report on criminal justice reform. Biden has made little to no progress on one campaign pledge: ending the death penalty The department of Justice withdrew requests for it in seven cases and announced a moratorium on executions, but that could be erased by the next administration. Last August, Colette Peters became director of the Bureau of Prisons, but she inherited decades of dysfunction at the agency. Implementation remains incomplete for the First Step Act, and a key tool for evaluating the supposed recidivism risk of people in federal prison remains tainted by racial bias. Biden ordered the attorney general not to renew Justice Department contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities. The order applies only to Bureau of Prison facilities and not to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s contracts with for-profit firms to manage immigration detention facilities.

The president has appointed a record number of former public defenders to appeals courts. The Senate recently confirmed the president’s nominees to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, giving the agency a quorum for the first time since 2019. In December, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued new prosecution policies, limiting the application of mandatory minimum penalties, especially in drug cases. After a year of inaction, last April, Biden granted 3 pardons and 75 commutations. He later pardoned all convictions for marijuana possession. On immigration, the administration sought funding for 25,000 ICE detention beds, down from 34,000, yet the administration continues to rely heavily on detention. While the president has limited control over state and local crime, federal funding can guide investment in promising ways to address crime. Biden supports community violence intervention (CVI) programs run by organizations that aim to break cycles of violence through social programming or other interventions and are led by people from the communities they serve. It is difficult to determine how much federal money has reached those organizations most in need. A historic amount of money is available to CVIs. These investments have already helped support new, innovative public safety programs, but some funding appears to have been used for other purposes, including spending on ShotSpotter gunshot monitoring technology, tasers and even a police dog.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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