WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday proposed sweeping changes to federal and state criminal justice systems, including ending cash bail requirements and doing away with a crime bill that rival Joe Biden helped make law.
“It’s not equal justice when a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system,” Warren wrote in a post on Medium.com announcing her proposals.
Warren’s popularity has risen in public opinion polls measuring the crowded Democratic field, but she has not gained much traction among black voters, a key voting demographic in the party’s nominating contests.
Criminal justice reform has been identified as a key issue among black voters because the current system has disproportionately incarcerated minorities.
In the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Biden leads Warren by 13 percentage points. Biden, the former vice president, has been criticized by Democratic rivals for his role in helping pass the 1994 crime bill when he was a U.S. Senator and for other past positions including opposition to federally mandated busing.
The sweeping overhaul outlined by Warren includes several policies that other Democrats have also advocated, including ending the death penalty, decriminalizing offenses related to addiction and homelessness and requiring the use of more body cameras by police.
Warren called for repealing the 1994 crime bill, a bipartisan piece of legislation that Biden pushed as a senator at the time. Since it passed, the bill has been criticized for resulting in mass incarceration because the minimum mandatory sentences it established led to more black men being locked up.
“The 1994 crime bill’s mandatory minimums and ‘truth-in-sentencing’ provisions that require offenders to serve the vast majority of their sentences have not proven effective,” Warren said.
Warren endorsed measures to “decriminalize poverty,” including ending the use of cash bail, which makes it hard for poor people to get out of jail when charged with minor or non-violent crimes.
“We should allow people to return to their jobs and families while they wait for trial, reserving preventive detention only for those cases that pose a true flight or safety risk,” Warren said.
Reporting by Ginger Gibson; Editing by David Gregorio