Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wants to set a “national goal of ensuring 100% of formerly incarcerated individuals have housing” when they are released from prison, his campaign said Tuesday.
Compared with the general population, the formerly incarcerated are almost 10 times as likely to be homeless, according to a recent report by the Prison Policy Initiative.
Should he be elected in 2020, the former vice president plans to work toward closing that gap by demanding that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development “only contract with entities that are open to housing individuals looking for a second chance,” the campaign said.
Biden additionally wants to increase funding for transitional housing, reversing cuts made by the Trump administration.
The goal is part of a larger criminal justice reform plan released by the Biden campaign Tuesday. According to a document provided to reporters, Biden hopes to enact changes including ending the federal use of mandatory minimums, private prisons and the death penalty; prioritizing hate crimes in the Department of Justice again; and developing a new task force outside the DOJ that will “make recommendations for tackling discrimination and other problems in our justice system that results from arrest and charging decisions.”
“Today, too many people are incarcerated in the United States ― and too many of them are black and brown,” the campaign said in the document. “To build safe and healthy communities, we need to rethink who we’re sending to jail, how we treat those in jail, and how we help them get the health care, education, jobs, and housing they need to successfully rejoin society after they serve their time.
The wide-ranging platform displays how much the Democratic Party has evolved since the 1990s, when Biden played a central role in the passage of a now-controversial 1994 crime bill. The bill had once been considered one of Biden’s signature legislative achievements but has since become closely associated by many in the Democratic Party with mass incarceration of people of color.
Over the first months of the primary, Biden has faced criticism from his political opponents for the 1994 bill. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey called the bill “awful” and “shameful” this year in an interview with HuffPost.
As part of Biden’s new push to support communities of color, his team revealed Tuesday that it wants to create a $20 billion grant program to “spur states to shift from incarceration to prevention” by focusing on issues including illiteracy and child abuse. To receive funding, states would be required to “eliminate mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes, institute earned credit programs, and take other steps to reduce incarceration rates without impacting public safety,” according to the campaign document.
The campaign also wants to increase the annual investment in juvenile justice reform. Congress recently appropriated only $60 million for fiscal year 2019 toward the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which provides states with money to help children obtain proper legal representation and expunge their records. As president, Biden would increase that annual investment to $1 billion, the campaign said.
During a Monday night call with reporters, a Biden senior campaign official said the team had focused the plan around “prevention, fairness, offering second chances, and reducing violence and supporting survivors.” The campaign also said it believed the plan’s focus on juvenile justice made it “uniquely special.”
On the topic of drugs, Biden said he supports the legalization of medical marijuana and hopes to decriminalize its use broadly, expunge prior marijuana-related convictions and classify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, a step down from Schedule I, a category for unsafe substances considered to have no medical purpose.
But he stopped short of proposing the legalization of recreational marijuana Tuesday, saying that question should be left “up to the states.”
“He very much believes that we need more research to study the positive and negative impact of cannabis use,” a senior Biden campaign official told reporters Monday.
However, the Biden campaign said that “no one should be incarcerated for drug use alone” and that the former vice president hopes to “divert these individuals to drug courts so they receive treatment to address their substance use disorder.”
Biden additionally hopes to “eliminate this disparity completely” between disparate sentences for crack and powder cocaine, his campaign said.