Former Vice President Joe Biden pledged to cut the U.S. incarceration rate by more than 50 percent if elected president in 2020.
Biden, who has faced criticism for authoring the 1994 crime bill, made the promise after being confronted by an ACLU activist while campaigning in South Carolina on Sunday.
“The ACLU has a roadmap for cutting incarceration by 50 percent through reforms that have been endorsed by the right and the left, including four other presidential candidates and many conservatives,” the activists said to Biden, according to a video made public by the group. “Do you commit to cutting incarceration by 50 percent if elected.”
Even prior to the question being finished, Biden jumped to say he would he cut the rate by “more than” just 50 percent.
“I’ll go further than that,” Biden said. “Let me show you my plan. We can do it more than that,” the former vice president pledged, before telling staff to reach out to the activist with more information about the campaign’s criminal justice reform program.
The activist, not wanting to be handed off to staff without a direct answer, asked, “is it a yes or no?”
“Yeah, the answer is yes,” Biden responded. “But I’ve got a better plan than you guys have.”
Despite the assertions that he has a “better plan,” Biden was one of the only presidential candidates who has yet to release a comprehensive criminal justice reform proposal. On Sunday, CNN reported a plan is in the works and will be unveiled in the coming weeks. Although no details were provided, the former vice president has reportedly met with Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) to discuss the topic.
It is unclear how Biden will be able to cut America’s incarceration by 50 percent without letting violent offenders out of custody. Data compiled by the Prison Policy Initiative shows there are about 900,000 violent convicted criminals and those awaiting trial for alleged violent crimes in federal, state, and local custody across the country. In comparison, there are only around 435,000 convicted drug offenders and those awaiting trial for alleged drug offenses in custody at the federal, state, and local levels. Even though that disparity is widely noted, criminal justice reform advocates have kept the conversation about decreasing prison rates solely centered on non-violent drug offenders.
In recent years, Biden has come under fire for his law and order record. Social justice activists have particularly criticized his tenure leading the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 1990s, where he was the primary author of the 1994 crime bill, which has been recognized to have targeted black American males for higher prison sentences.
In May, shortly after announcing his presidential campaign, Biden was confronted by protesters at a campaign event in Nashua, New Hampshire, over the law. The former vice president stood defiant about the crime legislation, saying the notion “it generated mass incarceration” was wrong.
“Folks, let’s get something straight,” Biden said. “This idea that the crime bill generated mass incarceration, it did not generate mass incarceration.”