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Biden Plan Reverses Part of 1994 Bill  07/23 06:25

   DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Joe Biden plans to propose a criminal justice 
agenda that would reverse key provisions of the 1994 crime bill that he helped 
write as a senator and that his rivals for the Democratic presidential 
nomination have blamed for the mass incarceration of racial minorities since 
then.

   Most notably, the former vice president is endorsing an end to the disparity 
that placed stricter sentencing terms on offenses involving crack versus powder 
cocaine as well as an end to the federal death penalty, which the 1994 crime 
bill authorized as a potential punishment for an increasing number of crimes.

   The criminal justice policy, which Biden plans to outline Tuesday during an 
appearance in New Orleans, comes as he works to reinforce his support among 
African American voters. The timing is important, especially after rival 
California Sen. Kamala Harris impugned Biden's civil rights record during last 
month's Democratic presidential debates. It also comes as Biden prepares for 
next week's presidential debates , when he will face Harris and New Jersey Sen. 
Cory Booker, both of whom have sharply criticized his role in the Clinton-era 
crime law.

   Biden campaign chairman Cedric Richmond called the plan "the most 
forward-leaning criminal justice policy proposed." Richmond, a Louisiana 
representative and former public defender, praised it for building on Virginia 
Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott's SAFE Justice Act, which would reserve prison 
space for violent offenders and offer a wider range of non-prison sentencing 
alternatives. Scott's bipartisan bill is co-sponsored by other members of the 
Congressional Black Caucus.

   By building on Scott's bill, Biden, who represented Delaware in the U.S. 
Senate for decades, is moving significantly to the left but not quite as far as 
endorsing the type of sweeping overhaul championed by Booker. Booker unveiled a 
proposal this year that would go beyond the criminal justice measure that 
President Donald Trump signed into law last year by slashing mandatory minimum 
sentences.

   And Biden's shift on the death penalty also puts him in line with every 
other Democratic presidential candidate except for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. 
It's a stark change of Biden's previous approach to the issue: Touting the 
toughness of the crime bill in 1992, the then-Senate Judiciary Committee 
chairman joked that it would do "everything but hang people for jaywalking."

   Biden's plan would seek to create a $20 billion grant program to encourage 
states to reduce incarceration by increasing spending on child abuse 
prevention, education and literacy, as long as states eliminate mandatory 
minimum sentencing for nonviolent crimes.

   He also would expand the Justice Department's role in rooting out 
institutional misconduct by police departments and prosecutors and would 
establish an independent task force to study prosecutorial discretion in an 
attempt to head off racial and ethnic discrimination.

   The plan also includes spending $1 billion annually on changes in the 
juvenile justice system and identifies as a goal that all former inmates have 
access to housing when they leave prison.

   Biden also plans to seek a renewed ban on assault weapons, an element of the 
1994 crime bill he continues to promote, and a ban on high-capacity ammunition 
magazines.

   Trump, a Republican, tweeted in May while championing his own criminal 
justice measure that "anyone associated with the 1994 Crime Bill will not have 
a chance of being elected. In particular, African Americans will not be able to 
vote for you."

   Since the last debate, Biden has focused his campaign speeches on his stint 
as vice president and has aggressively proposed policies in recent weeks that 
build on gains in President Barack Obama's administration, including criminal 
justice.

   Booker has hinted that he would renew his criticisms of Biden's lead role on 
the 1994 crime bill when the two candidates share the stage during the second 
set of Democratic presidential debates in Detroit next week. The legislation 
that Biden passed "put mass incarceration on steroids," Booker told CBS on 
Sunday.

   Harris, too, has criticized Biden's role in the 1994 bill. However, Biden 
plans to note during his speech Tuesday his time as a public defender before 
entering politics in the early 1970s.

   Although Biden advisers say it's not a subtle shot at Harris, who has been 
criticized by criminal justice reform advocates as being too tough on the 
accused during her tenures as the San Francisco district attorney and as 
California's attorney general before she was elected senator.

   Harris has answered those criticisms by saying she supports major changes to 
federal criminal justice.


(KR)

 
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