Criminal Justice Reform

President Biden, VP Harris and Democrats have prioritized criminal justice reform, investing in community violence intervention programs; implementing prison, police and military reforms; and providing expanded opportunities in education, employment, loans and small business funding for people who were formerly incarcerated (see Crime Prevention section). House Democrats have also passed: the George Floyd Policing Act – a sweeping police reform bill; legalization of marijuana and the elimination of criminal penalties for possession or distinction; and the Equal Act which eliminates sentencing based on the unfair distinction between crack and powder cocaine.

 

What Have the Biden-Harris Administration and Dems Done?

 

  • Passed the George Floyd Policing Act – a sweeping police reform bill – in the House. (Blocked by Senate Republicans.)
  • Passed a bill in the House to legalize marijuana nationwide and eliminate the longstanding criminal penalties for anyone who distributes or possesses it. (Blocked by Senate Republicans.)
  • Passed the Equal Act in the House which would end the distinction between crack cocaine and powder cocaine in sentencing (harsher sentences are given for crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine despite no chemical differences) – a distinction that has disproportionately impacted communities of color for decades. If it became law, it would apply retroactively. (Blocked by Senate Republicans.)
  • Required officers to intervene in situations of excessive force by another officer.
  • Banned the use of chokeholds and limited the circumstances for no-knock raids by federal law enforcement agencies.
  • Created a national database of police misconduct.
  • Mandated the adoption of body-cameras in federal law enforcement agencies.
  • Re-established DOJ consent decrees with police departments.
  • Launched DOJ investigations into abuses by police departments.
  • Updated recruiting, hiring, promotion, and retention policies for federal law enforcement officers.
  • Reinstated a national freeze on federal executions.
  • Reduced racial bias in the DOJ’s algorithm for determining early release from prison.
  • Banned new contracts with private prisons.
  • Directed the DOJ and HHS to improve conditions of prison confinement.
  • Established an agency-wide committee to produce reforms to the criminal justice system.
  • Expanded access to federal employment for formerly incarcerated individuals via the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
  • Invested in job training and intensive re-entry programs in federal prisons.
  • Expanded access to business capital for formerly incarcerated people.
  • Expanded access to healthcare, education, and housing for formerly incarcerated people.
  • Conducted increased outreach to incarcerated veterans.
  • Reformed military processes for sexual assault, harassment, and domestic abuse investigations and expanded prevention and support programs for military personnel.
  • Restored and expanded restrictions on transfers of military equipment.

What Have the Biden-Harris Administration and Democrats Done?

Legislation

  • Passed the George Floyd Policing Act in the House (blocked by Senate Republicans) – a sweeping police reform bill which included:
      • Granting the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division authority to issue subpoenas to police departments as part of “pattern or practice” investigations into bias or misconduct.
      • Providing grants to state AGs to create an independent process to investigate misconduct or excessive use of force by police.
      • Establishing a federal registry of police misconduct complaints and disciplinary actions.
      • Increasing accountability for police officers who commit misconduct by restricting the application of the qualified immunity doctrine for local and state officers, and by changing the intent element of the federal law used to prosecute police for misconduct from “willfully” to “knowingly or with reckless disregard.”
      • Required federal uniformed police officers and federally funded state and local law enforcement agencies to have body cameras and their vehicles to be equipped with dashboard cameras.
      • Restricted the transfer of military equipment to police to reduce the militarization of police.
      • Required state and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding to adopt anti-discrimination policies and training programs.
      • Prohibited federal police officers from using chokeholds or other carotid holds, and required state and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding to ban the same.
      • Prohibited the issuance of no-knock warrants (warrants that allow police to conduct a raid without knocking or announcing themselves) in federal drug investigations, and provide incentives to the states to enact a similar prohibition.
      • Changed the threshold for the permissible use of force by federal law enforcement officers from “reasonableness” to only when “necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury.”
      • Mandated that federal officers use deadly force only as a last resort and that de-escalation be attempted, and conditioned federal funding to state and local law enforcement agencies on the adoption of the same policy.
  • Passed legislation in the House to legalize marijuana nationwide and eliminate the longstanding criminal penalties for anyone who distributes or possesses it.  (Blocked by Senate Republicans.)

Additional Police Reform Measures

  • Required officers to intervene in situations of excessive force by another officer. This policy also states that officers have a duty to intervene and render medical aid.
  • Banned the use of chokeholds and limited the circumstances for no-knock raids by federal law enforcement agencies.
  • Created a national database of police misconduct.
  • Mandated the adoption of body-cameras in federal law enforcement agencies. All federal law enforcement agencies must adopt and publicly share their body-camera policies, which must include the activation of cameras during arrests and searches, and provide expedited public releases of footage following incidents involving serious bodily injury or deaths in custody.
  • Re-established DOJ consent decrees with police departments.
  • Launched DOJ investigations into abuses by police departments in Phoenix, Louisville, and Minneapolis.
  • Updated recruiting, hiring, promotion, and retention policies for federal law enforcement officers. Federal law enforcement agencies are required to develop practices to attract, support, and retain an inclusive, diverse, and accountable law enforcement workforce. This includes implementing screening tools to ensure agencies do not hire, retain, or partner with individuals who promote unlawful violence, white supremacy, or other biases on the basis of protected characteristics.

Prison Reform

  • Reinstated a national freeze on federal executions. This had been the precedent for 17 years until President Trump halted the pause and oversaw the execution of 13 people in six months – the most of any president in 120 years.
  • Reduced racial bias in the DOJ’s algorithm for determining early release from prison. This will significantly increase the number of incarcerated Black and Hispanic men eligible to take educational classes and participate in work-life programs that could lead to earlier releases.
  • Banned new contracts with private prisons.
  • Directed the DOJ and HHS to improve conditions of prison confinement.
  • Established an agency-wide committee to produce reforms to the criminal justice system. With representatives from all agencies of the federal government, the committee will produce a strategic plan advancing front-end diversion alternatives to incarceration, rehability, and re-entry programs.

Improving Reentry Outcomes for Formerly Incarcerated People

  • Expanded access to federal employment for formerly incarcerated individuals via the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). OPM published proposed regulations that remove barriers to federal employment for formerly incarcerated individuals.
  • Invested in job training and intensive re-entry programs in federal prisons. The DOJ and Department of Labor invested $145M in FY22-FY23 to provide job skills training and individualized employment/re-entry plans for incarcerated people in Bureau of Prison facilities and pathways for seamless transitions into society after release.
  • Expanded access to business capital for formerly incarcerated people. The Small Business Administration removed barriers to eligibility for loan programs based on irrelevant criminal history records.
  • Expanded access to healthcare, education, and housing for formerly incarcerated people. This will include Second Chance Pell grants, extended healthcare enrollment, incentives for employers to hire formerly incarcerated people, and revisions to Department of Housing and Urban Development program criteria.
  • Conducted increased outreach to incarcerated veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced efforts to increase the number of Veterans Re-Entry Search Service Programs in prisons to help identify incarcerated veterans preparing for re-entry.

Military Reforms

  • Reformed military processes for sexual assault, harassment, and domestic abuse investigations and expanded prevention and support programs for military personnel.
  • Restored and expanded restrictions on transfers of military equipment. The order imposes sensible restrictions on the transfer and purchase of military equipment with federal funds to prevent resale in non-military environments.

LAST UPDATED ON SEPTEMBER 20TH, 2022