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October 27, 2019

Mayor Pete Buttigeig releases extensive criminal justice reform plan expanding on prior Douglass Plan

Back in July, as detailed in this post, Mayor Pete Buttigieg introduced this notable platform titled "The Douglass Plan: A Comprehensive Investment in the Empowerment of Black America."  The plan, which aspires to "dismantle old systems and structures that inhibit prosperity and builds new ones that will unlock the collective potential of Black America," gives considerable attention to "Criminal Justice Reform," with nearly a quarter of this 18-page document focused on such matter. 

Not content, this weekend Mayor Buttigieg released an even more detailed an ambitious criminal justice reform plan at his campaign website under the heading "Securing Justice: Reforming Our Criminal Legal System." The full plan, which is available here and runs 16 dense pages with more than 70 footnotes, defies simple summarization. So here are a few sentencing part that caught my eye (with some formatting lost):

Pete is committed to reducing the number of people incarcerated in the United States at both the federal and state levels by 50%.... To remedy this, Pete will:

Double funding for federal grants for states that commit to meaningful reform and prioritize funding for programs aimed at pretrial reforms, decarceration, and expansion of alternative to incarceration (ATI) programs....

On the federal level, eliminate incarceration for drug possession, reduce sentences for other drug offenses, and apply these reductions retroactively....

Legalize marijuana and automatically expunge past convictions. Pete will push Congress to pass legislation requiring that a significant percentage of tax revenue flowing from legalization is directed back to the communities and people most devastated by the war on drugs....

Eliminate mandatory minimums. The average sentence for someone subject to a mandatory minimum penalty in 2017 was 138 months, compared to 28 months as the average sentence of people convicted of an offense that did not have a mandatory minimum sentence. Eliminating mandatory minimums and decreasing overall sentence length for a significant number of crimes is critical to ensuring that people are not incarcerated when there is no effect on public safety, and it will reduce incarceration. It also will eliminate the role mandatory minimums plays in incentivizing people to plead guilty for crimes they did not commit.

Direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to explore sentencing caps for all crimes. America’s mass incarceration crisis has been driven in large part by excessive sentencing. Powerful evidence confirms that long sentences have not made Americans safer. Further, we know that people often “age out” of crime as they move through the course of their lives. For this reason, Pete is committed to exploring innovative policy solutions to address the nation’s over-incarceration crisis, such as caps on sentencing.

Commute the sentences of people who are incarcerated in the federal system beyond what justice warrants by establishing an independent clemency commission that sits outside the Department of Justice. An independent clemency commission, with diverse professional backgrounds and lived experiences, will make the process more streamlined and comprehensive....

Support a constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty.

Reduce the over-reliance on solitary confinement and abolish its prolonged use, bringing the United States in line with international human rights standards, which define the use of solitary confinement in excess of 15 days as per se torture.

October 27, 2019 at 05:28 PM | Permalink


On its face, Buttigieg's plan looks great. Couple takeaways:

"Commute the sentences of people who are incarcerated in the federal system beyond what justice warrants..."
- Basically what the OJPC + David Singleton are trying to do with the Beyond Guilt project! Very cool, and long overdue. I'd like to see how it would play out regarding public opinion on violent offenders. Society seems to be coming around to the truth that "tough on crime" doesn't work, but lots of folks balk at violent crimes, which is an issue because far more people are locked up for violent offenses than drug offense alone. Reform has to go further than the low-hanging fruit of drug crimes to make a real dent in incarceration levels.

"On the federal level, eliminate incarceration for drug possession, reduce sentences for other drug offenses, and apply these reductions retroactively."
- Similar quibble as above. I think this is excellent, but reducing sentences for violent crimes AND applying the reductions retroactively would be even better. Sentencing caps and eliminating mandatory mins would help with that, sure, but I didn't see anything about doing so retroactively for violent offenses (I could have missed it, though, because you're right, it's dense).

Generally: People have criticized Buttigieg's plan based on his track record as Mayor, arguing that he "didn't do anything" to help criminal legal reform and this is pandering. However, I think he's running for POTUS BECAUSE he won't be as restricted by state and federal law from doing things he wanted to do all along. His platform is the most sweeping of any candidate and he's one of the few who has addressed this issue directly.

Posted by: Kristen Eby | Oct 28, 2019 10:14:02 AM

Abolish the Death Penalty! Save Dylan Roof!

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Oct 29, 2019 9:47:07 PM

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