WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said Tuesday, Aug. 20, that as president she would eliminate the death penalty, end the use of private prisons, curtail the cash bail system and overhaul the use of presidential pardons.
The announcement was Warren's entry into the volatile debate over criminal justice reform, an issue that is resonating especially in the African American community. Unlike earlier policy announcements, Warren did not hesitate to take implicit but unmistakable aim at policies embraced in the past by her rivals, especially former vice president Joe Biden and Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J.
"We will reduce incarceration and improve justice in our country by changing what we choose to criminalize, reforming police behavior and improving police-community relations, and reining in a system that preferences prosecution over justice," Warren said.
The plan is largely aimed at rooting out policies that have led to the imprisonment of a disproportionate number of black and brown Americans. Although Warren has gained political strength in recent weeks, ranking second behind Biden in many Democratic primary polls, she has yet to make major inroads among African American voters.
Warren released her criminal justice plan the day after her largest rally to date, when she addressed a crowd in Minnesota that the campaign estimated at 12,000. She also plans to visit a nonprofit organization there that helps men with a history of homelessness and incarceration, and she will host a roundtable with criminal justice activists and formerly incarcerated people.
On Tuesday, Warren pledged to jettison much of the 1994 crime bill that Biden helped write and has been blamed for driving a sharp increased in incarceration in the country, especially among African Americans.
"It was a mistake, and it needs to be repealed," Warren said. Still, she added, she would preserve a portion of the law that provides more resources to pursue domestic violence.
Biden has defended parts of the 1994 law while also suggesting he would take a different approach today. That law, passed at a time when fear of violent crime was a driving political force, was supported by many members of the Congressional Black Caucus, but many black leaders have come to believe it badly damaged their communities.
Warren also promised to "decriminalize truancy" for students, establishing a difference between herself and Harris.
A former prosecutor and state attorney general in California, Harris has said she regrets the "unintended consequences" of a law she championed to punish the parents of students who frequently missed school.
Instead, Warren said she would increase funding for mental health workers in schools.
And Warren would end stop-and-frisk or "broken windows" policing, a policy that Booker has been criticized for using when he mayor of Newark. Warren said she would withhold federal funding from police departments that use those techniques, which involve targeting minor offenses as a way to head off bigger problems.
Warren's plan also would triple funding to the Justice Department's civil rights division, providing additional funds to investigate local police departments that show a pattern of unconstitutional policing. Democrats and civil rights leaders have condemned the Trump administration for cutting back on efforts to monitor such police departments.
Warren also said she would provide incentives for state attorneys general to launch more investigations of police departments and expand civilian oversight, establishing a federal standard for how and when law enforcement officers use force.
This article was written by Annie Linskey, a reporter for The Washington Post.