The American Civil Liberties Union is preparing to formally call on former Vice President Joe Biden to release a policy plan that would cut mass incarceration in half as part of an effort to hold the presumptive Democratic nominee accountable for his prior commitment.
In an email to The Daily Beast, the legal advocacy group said they intend to urge Biden to present a concrete answer to how he will address the country’s prison population that shows he’s serious about prioritizing racial issues and criminal justice reform.
“We want to know how he’d operationalize this,” Lauren Weiner, the organization’s director of strategic communications, said. “We’ve laid out some recommendations, but if he’s serious about addressing racial issues and criminal justice (as he talked about this weekend), we need more concrete of an answer.”
Weiner said members of the ACLU have previously shared their guidance on how to achieve that 50 percent target with the Biden campaign and other Democrats, and that they plan to follow up with a letter to the former vice president now that he is slated to compete against President Trump in November. The group is also making the same ask to Trump’s campaign.
“We’ve long advocated for the need to reduce the prison population and aggressively address racial disparities in the criminal legal system. On the trail, Joe Biden made a commitment cut incarceration - which disproportionately impacts Blacks - by at least half and we hope to see the details of how he’ll get there,” Ronnie Newman, the organization’s national political director, told The Daily Beast.
Reached for comment, the Biden campaign pointed to their existing criminal justice plan, in which Biden says “we can and must reduce the number of people incarcerated in this country while also reducing crime.”
During the Democratic primary, Biden previously told an ACLU volunteer at a campaign event in early June that cutting the rate by 50 percent was “arbitrary” and “not a rational way of going about it.” But the following month, he said he would do “more than that” when asked the same question by a voter aligned with the group in South Carolina. “We can do it more than that,” he said.
At various junctures of his campaign, Biden has had to answer for his role as the leading architect of Congress’ 1994 Violent Crime Control Act and Law Enforcement Act, known as the crime bill, which extended the death penalty, broadly tightened sentencing, and disproportionaly affected African Americans in the country. The bill was widely considered to have propelled the rate of mass incarceration.
The ACLU’s call for Biden to release a detailed plan comes following the announcement of his newest policy proposal intended to address the unique concerns impacting African Americans. In a briefing call on Tuesday, senior campaign officials outlined several components of Biden’s “Lift Every Voice” plan, including to strengthen the nation's commitment to justice. The plan also pledges to advance “economic mobility” and “close the racial wealth and income gaps,” “expand access to high-quality education and to tackle racial inequality in our education system,” as well as to make “far-reaching investments in ending health disparities.”