Former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday declared that he believes “nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime.”
At the third Democratic primary debate in Houston, Biden offered the response as part of a defense of his criminal justice record, though he appeared to be referring to serving time for nonviolent drug offenses rather than suggesting that white-collar criminals should, too, serve no jail time for their crimes.
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“The fact of the matter is that what’s happened is that we’re in a situation now where there are so many people who are in jail and shouldn’t be in jail. The whole means by which this should change is to — the model has to change,” he said, adding: “Nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime.”
Biden then pointed out the number of commutations that took place when he was vice president, arguing that “nobody should be in jail for a drug problem” and that drug abusers should instead be in rehabilitation centers.
Biden’s criminal justice record has come under heavy scrutiny throughout his candidacy as candidates look to crack his firewall of support from black voters, a key voting bloc of the party.
His racial and criminal justice legacy have been pressure points in both debates thus far, and the plan he released earlier this summer was immediately panned by some of his rivals who pointed to his role in crafting a 1994 crime bill that they say contributed to mass incarceration of people of color.
Biden’s proposal for criminal justice reform includes many provisions advocates have called for, such as eliminating the sentencing disparity between offenses involving crack and powder cocaine, ending cash bail, pushing for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences, decriminalizing marijuana and expunging prior cannabis-use convictions. He’s also said he would end incarceration “for drug use alone.”