As President-Elect Joe Biden prepares his transition to the White House, he faces growing expectations for bringing sweeping changes on criminal justice reform.
As the author of the 1994 crime bill, which was credited as part of a wave of mass harassment of mostly black men, and a vocal proponent of harsh policies during the “war on drugs”, Biden has a long And often – has criticized the record at issue.
He is also coming to power as one of the most significant changes in the federal criminal justice system in the 21st century after it was signed into law by his predecessor, President Donald Trump. The first step was the result of a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, civil rights groups and grassroots activists. Experts said it was a monumental move after years of criminal justice reform and “strict on crime” policies that were being used as a political kudgel in Washington.
But the loopholes of the legislation, as some activists have noted, and Biden would be expected to push the needle forward. Experts told NBC News that now that both political parties are speaking out on the issue in common and significant steps have been taken in the past decade, a Biden administration needs to improve criminal justice more than one talks.
“The main foundation has already been laid, the ground work has already been done, the foundation has already been built. The only thing he has known and continues to capitalize on is the momentum, ”said Louis L. Reid, director of organizing and participation of #Cut50, a bipartisan criminal justice reform nonprofit organization. “Biden is required to hit the ground running on legislation and executive action.”
The Biden transition team did not respond to a request for comment on their plans. But as a presidential candidate, he proposed comprehensive reforms, including the abolition of private prisons, cash bail and mandatory-minimum sentences. He has also been an outspoken opponent of capital punishment and police reform. For example, they have tied up federal funds given to police departments in various areas and temporary funds for community policing in other areas, to protect police departments from progressive policemen.
The president-elect recently told Lester Holt of NBC News in an interview that once he is in the White House, he wants to call a meeting with activists, police chiefs, civil rights, to “determine For how we proceed. “
Reid, who was also a former federal prisoner, said thinking is the right way forward.
“Those closest to the problem are also closest to the solution, but often far from resources and power. And we think this administration can think beyond the box, we can re-imagine justice with this current administration. “They need to say essentially a very concrete thing on policy.”
Biden’s legislative expectations also rested on Democrats who won a majority in the Senate in January.
He has promised to tear off executive orders on Day 1 in the White House to end many of the Trump administration’s policies and that they can continue to do so if Republicans obstruct their legislative efforts. But the effectiveness of executive orders may be limited when it comes to judicial justice reform, which will not affect state and local prisons.
Dealing with police reform after a year would be a particularly delicate issue in which the deaths of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement led to worldwide protests and national reprisals.
Breaking his budget and re-imagining the police while balancing the concerns of police officers and progressive activists, a parable experts say will be one of the obstacles he may face. During the campaign, Biden rejected calls to discredit the police, angered some progressive activists. At the same time, he also lost support from police unions, who largely supported Trump.
Adam Gelb, the founder of the Council on Criminal Justice, a bipartisan criminal justice nonprofit, is a former Senate judiciary employee who worked with Biden on the 1994 crime bill. He said that he believes that Biden’s promise to be a coalition builder is genuine but he cannot be fully prepared to restructure the country’s comprehensive criminal justice system.
“I don’t think he sees crime control and justice as a zero-sum game, but will focus on policies that can produce win-win,” he said, adding that Biden and the vice-president Election Kamala Harris recognizes that “the policies of the 80s and 90s oversee the trail, and are now going step by step with public sentiment, as well as researching what really works.” Is going. ”
In a wide-ranging thank-you speech on Wednesday, Biden said he believed the US would “discover the root of systemic racism in this country.”
Gelb said that he believes that Biden understands that there are social inequalities, but has not fully understood that the system is the root of the problem.
He said, “I understand that he understands that the criminal justice system is deeply flawed and needs to be fixed, but that he sees the system as a source of solutions, not the root cause of the problems.” ,” They said. And that means balancing enforcement, and prevention, and treatment, and reform, and systems of courts. “
Reid, however, said that from a grassroots organizing point of view, political winds have shifted and organizations like him and others would have held Biden accountable, particularly among other issues, police practices, sentencing and reorganization of the prison system On.
“I am not anticipating that crime is increasing, I am not predicting that unemployment is going to be at record highs,” he said. “But what I’m saying is that if those things happen, then we are an administration that is not going to go bald in the face of the level of adversity.”