Interesting and critical accounting of Biden Administration's criminal justice work over first 100 days


Biden-thermometer-2This new lengthy Law360 piece, headlined "Biden Falls Short On Criminal Justice Reform In First 100 Days," provides a fittingly critical review of the Biden Administration's criminal justice work over its first 100 days in office.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are some highlights (along with an interesting graphic):

President Joe Biden made a slew of campaign promises on the criminal justice reform front that he has made little progress on in his first 100 days in office, disappointing some advocates who believed he would prioritize criminal justice reform.

Advocates say that even though Biden entered his presidential term with a full plate of pressing issues to tackle, including the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn, he could have easily taken more steps to advance criminal justice reform at the beginning of his administration.

Kara Gotsch, deputy director of the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit research organization seeking to reduce incarceration rates, said she is especially disappointed with the Biden administration because it supported renewing a policy that subjects individuals to mandatory minimum sentences for having trace amounts of fentanyl in their systems.

The policy was enacted under former President Donald Trump and goes against Biden's campaign promise to end mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug offenses, according to Gotsch.  Gotsch said she is outraged that Biden's administration ignored advice from lawmakers, the legal community and criminal justice organizations to not support the policy when Congress was weighing whether or not to re-up the rule. Congress voted last week to renew the policy. "It's just mind-boggling that we are having this conversation that is a repeat of conversations that I personally have been having for decades," Gotsch said.

Biden supports criminal justice reform in his speeches and public statements, which sets an important tone for his administration, but his words are not leading to action on criminal justice reform, advocates say.

In Biden's March proclamation about "Second Chance Month" in April, he said his administration supports giving second chances to people by "diverting individuals who have used illegal drugs to drug court programs and treatment instead of prison" and "eliminating exceedingly long sentences and mandatory minimums that keep people incarcerated longer than they should be."

"So why are we literally doing the opposite, which is to expose more people to the harshest mandatory minimums on the books?" Gotsch said.

One of the biggest actions Biden took was issuing an executive order in his second week of office ending the use of privately operated federal prisons.  That move reinstated an order first issued by former President Barack Obama, which Trump had reversed.  Even that action from Biden, however, didn't go far enough to reform the criminal justice system, advocates say.

Brandon Buskey, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Criminal Law Reform Project, explained that one of the problems with Biden's order is that it doesn't immediately end federal prison contracts with private operators. Instead, the order phases out these contracts, which are usually for five to 10 years, by preventing them from being renewed when they expire, he said....

Advocates also say that Biden should have extended his executive order to privately operated civil immigration detention centers rather than limiting it to criminal detention facilities under the purview of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Biden's inaction so far doesn't mean that he won't keep his criminal justice reform promises though, scholars say. Professor Andrew Sidman, chair of the political science department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said it is common for modern presidents to overpromise during their presidential campaigns and underdeliver in their first 100 days in office and beyond.  But Sidman said he believes that Biden will eventually get to criminal justice reform during his time in office....

When Law360 asked the White House about Biden fulfilling his criminal justice reform promises, a spokesperson pointed to several public statements that press secretary Jen Psaki has made about the president still being committed to criminal justice reform.  Psaki has said that Biden is waiting on Congress to pass reform legislation.

But Biden could have easily granted clemency to hundreds of incarcerated individuals serving lengthy sentences for minor drug offenses, commuted the sentences of federal inmates on death row and issued a moratorium on federal executions — all actions that he promised to take during his presidency — within his first 100 days without Congress, experts say....

Insha Rahman, vice president of advocacy and partnerships at the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research and policy organization, said that Biden immediately addressing the pandemic was important for criminal justice reform.... Ann Jacobs, executive director of the John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity, added that prioritizing public health and the economy are crucial for crime prevention because research shows that people are more likely to commit crimes when they are desperate or unemployed.

Jacobs said that Biden has created a solid foundation for criminal justice reform within his 100 days by appointing top officials within the departments of Homeland Security, Education and Justice who understand criminal justice reform....

Rahman said the next six months will be a better indicator of how the Biden administration is doing on criminal justice reform.  The administration has lots of upcoming opportunities to reaffirm its commitment to criminal justice reform, including by not sending individuals released on home confinement during the pandemic back to prison and allocating money from the American Rescue Plan to reform efforts, she said.

Congress allocated $1.5 billion in the American Rescue Plan to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for community-based mental health services that could be used as alternatives to incarceration and would be a substantial investment in criminal justice reform, Rahman said. "The devil is in the details, and truly, it's an opportunity for the administration to put money where their mouth is on criminal justice reform," Rahman said.

A few prior recent related posts:

[Author: Douglas A. Berman]


Tags: Law, Congress, White House, America, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Biden, Donald Trump, Trump, Rahman, Jacobs, U S Department of Health and Human Services, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Vera Institute of Justice, Jen Psaki, Psaki, Douglas A Berman, Sidman, Brandon Buskey, Sentencing Project, Kara Gotsch, Gotsch, Biden Administration, Ann Jacobs, Prez Biden, American Rescue Plan, Gotsch Gotsch, Federal Bureau of Prisons Biden, Andrew Sidman, Insha Rahman, Homeland Security Education and Justice, Congress Small

Source:  https://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2021/05/interesting-and-critical-accounting-of-biden-administrations-criminal-justice-work-over-first-100-da.html



Related:
May 1, 2021 at 10:10 AM Assessments and concerns regarding Biden Administration's early criminal justice efforts
May 1, 2021 at 8:36 AM "Obstruction of Justice: Redesigning the Shortcut"
April 30, 2021 at 5:12 PM Counsel file initial sentencing briefs on "Blakely factors" in preparation for Derek Chauvin's sentencing
April 30, 2021 at 11:12 AM Prez Biden gets timely reminder that criminal justice reform presents unique bipartisan opportunity