Apologies Aside, Bernie Sanders has a Better Policy than Hillary Clinton to End Mass Incarceration


Hillary Clinton’s contribution to our era of mass incarceration has garnered increased media attention after Black Lives Matter protester Ashley Williams asked Clinton for an apology during a fundraiser in South Carolina. Criminal justice reform has been a big issue between the Democratic front-runner and challenger Bernie Sanders throughout the campaign, but especially as voting is about to occur in states with large African American communities, who have been decimated by the 1994 Bill Clinton Crime Bill and the Drug War in general.

When examining who has a better policy to help end our era of mass incarceration, Senator Sanders simply has the better policy. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have called for some of the same policies, such as ending the use of private prisons, with Clinton following Sanders’ lead on the issue, and equipping police with body cameras. On two very important issues, Sen. Sanders is head and shoulders above former Secretary of State Clinton: eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and ending federal marijuana prohibition.

To her credit, the former First Lady wants to reduce mandatory minimum sentences and allow states to move forward with their own marijuana policies, but these half-measures aren’t progressive enough for the communities that have been most harmed by a racist and classist criminal justice system. Senator Sanders, will restore the judicial branch’s discretion in considering a variety of factors when sentencing offenders by completely eliminating mandatory minimums. By ending the federal War on Marijuana, our nation’s law enforcement resources can be better utilized on more important matters, such as terrorism, and state-regulated marijuana businesses will be able to utilize banks and tax deductions (not to mention not have to worry about a federal raid) just like any other business.

While some have downplayed the significance of altering federal criminal justice policy on the prison population, since a vast majority of prisoners are held in state prisons, these critics are missing how influential national policy is on local issues. By eliminating federal marijuana prohibition, the United States government will no longer provide incentives to local police for arresting people for marijuana; we have already seen how a change in funding has altered law enforcement behavior at a Texas checkpoint famous for arresting Willie Nelson and others. Many states will follow the lead of the federal government and will look to alter their marijuana and mandatory sentencing policies as they realize the public benefits.

As the great Michelle Alexander has written, neither Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders should get a pass on the Clinton Crime Bill as Sanders did vote for the bill as a House member. However, their history should be taken into full context, including statements they made at the time about the bill and other policies they supported.

Then-First Lady Clinton also championed her husband’s welfare bill that hurt poor people across the nation, disproportionately people of color. Also, their statements regarding crime were vastly different. Bernie Sanders made clear that he was opposed to the increased criminalization of our society, but was torn by the Clinton Crime Bill because it also included the Violence Against Women Act. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, showed no such confliction, stating that a bill was needed because of “super predators” that “we have to bring them to heel” and she should apologize for such language.

Last night a black woman interrupted one of Hillary’s campaign events to ask her why she has not apologized for mass…

Posted by Michelle Alexander on Thursday, February 25, 2016

More important than any apology, is the policies being proposed by Hillary Clinton today compared to Bernie Sanders. If we, as a nation, want to start unraveling our era of mass incarceration, to repeal our New Jim Crow laws, then Bernie Sanders‘ clearly has the better policies to help us turn the page on a racist and shameful chapter in our nation’s history.

Featured Photo credit: AP/Getty

Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.