Bernie Sanders Answers 2016 Critics With Sweeping Criminal Justice Reform Plan

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Three years after critics took aim at Bernie Sanders for failing to do enough to tackle racial injustice, the Democratic presidential hopeful has unveiled a plan for criminal justice reform that aims to tackle that issue.

On Sunday, the Vermont senator published the plan on his official campaign website. Acknowledging the high arrest rates of Black Americans compared to their white counterparts — Black people are four times more likely than white people to be apprehended for marijuana possession and five times more likely to be incarcerated in general — Sanders is focusing his efforts on, among other things, overhauling the way law enforcement practices.

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2020 presidential candidate, speaks onstage during the 2019 Young Leaders Conference — 2020 Presidential Candidates Forum at Georgia International Convention Center on August 17, 2019, in College Park, Georgia. (Photo: Paras Griffin/WireImage)

The proposal states “we must hold our police and sheriff’s departments to a higher standard. And we must end harmful policing practices like racial profiling, stop and frisk, oppressive ‘broken windows’ policing, and the militarization of police forces — all of which actively undermine public safety and community trust in law enforcement.

“Widespread use of excessive force, including deadly shootings of unarmed civilians, undermine the integrity of and public trust in the police,” it continued. “Violence and brutality of any kind, particularly at the hands of the police meant to protect and serve our communities, must not be tolerated.”

As for how Sanders plans to tackle that challenge, one prong of the plan to transform how communities are policed says there will be accountability and robust oversight of law enforcement. That entails breathing new life into the use of probes by the Department of Justice, consent decrees, and federal lawsuits to handle “systemic constitutional violations by police departments;” ensuring the “accountability, strict guidelines and independent oversight for all federal funds used by police departments;” and the ending of nationwide programs that give military equipment to local police departments. Additionally, whenever someone is killed in police custody, a probe by the U.S. Attorney General will be triggered.

In an effort to end the profits corporations make from the criminal justice system, Sanders states he’ll put an end to cash bail through stopping its rare use at the federal level and using incentives to encourage states to end the practice. Sanders also proposes all Americans have access to legal counsel and an end to excessive sentencing and mass incarceration. To do so, Sanders said as president he plans to abolish the death penalty and nix “three strikes” laws, which significantly increases prison sentences for people who have had two or more serious felonies, among other things.

Elsewhere, Sanders wants to begin investing in the community, foster a fair transition after people are released from prison, and make prisons more humane.

Sanders’ criminal justice plan comes nearly one month after fellow Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg announced his plans for how he plans to aid the Black community with changing the criminal justice system.

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