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Have Biden, Other Dems Caved On Criminal Justice Reform?

In his 2020 run for the White House Joe Biden won over the left in part because of his willingness to take big, bold stances on hot-button issues like criminal justice reform. From interrupting the "school-to-prison pipeline" through boosts to mental health funding to ending incarceration for drug possession, Biden "imagined a ground-up reworking of the carceral state," writes Democratic strategist Max Burns in The Hill.  Biden’s vows of far-reaching reform were so numerous that Prison Policy Initiative’s Wanda Bertram listed only his five biggest pledges in a post-election recap. The Marshall Project called Biden’s criminal justice platform “the most progressive … of any major party candidate in generations.”  


Much has changed in four years. Biden’s old criminal justice pitch has been dropped from his website. He faces criticism not only from the progressive left but also from experts in the criminal justice system for his often contradictory stands, Burns says. He asked 10 criminal justice groups for comment and heard from two. “The only hesitancy we’re seeing is from inside-the-beltway politicians who aren’t in touch with what their voters want,” said the Justice Action Network's Jenna Bottler. “If the president wants to rejoin the criminal justice conversation, it’s simple: listen to the voters who are smarter than election-year soundbites.” Democrats’ silence on criminal justice reform has been driven in part by a successful Republican messaging campaign. GOP politicians, aided by a network of right-wing media outlets, have spent much of their time since 2020 selling voters on the fiction that crime is surging. They’ve made sure people know to lay the blame on so-called “soft on crime” Democrats, whom they portray as eager to release dangerous felons onto the street. 'The states are all still passing criminal justice reforms or fighting for them,” said Lorenzo Jones of the Katal Center for Equity, Health and Justice. “The people doing that are all local, but those local people have been largely shut out of the national spotlight.” Burns believes that Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump can run to Biden’s left on criminal justice reform.  He urges Biden to bring together "neglected criminal justice reform groups and doing some much-needed listening."


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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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