Bernie Sanders isn’t done talking about criminal justice reform — in fact, he’s merely getting started. The presidential contender continues to rise in the polls and sensible Drug War reforms will only increase his standing with the Democratic base.
Appearing at a campaign rally in Nevada on Tuesday, the Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate talked at length about the unfairly punitive policies that plague the American justice system and disproportionately affect people of color in the United States. Speaking to the crowd of 4,500 supporters gathered outside the University of Nevada, Sen. Sanders went beyond his previous speeches on the issue, announcing that, come September, he will be introducing federal legislation which would abolish for-profit private prisons.
“When Congress reconvenes in September,” Sanders said, “I will be introducing legislation, which takes corporations out of profiteering from running jails.”
Tackling the problem of for-profit prisons is a bold move for a federal legislator, as the prison industry is a hugely profitable part of the U.S. economy. The top two private prison companies in the country, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, have a combined annual revenue of over $3 billion, much of which is spent lobbying elected officials to protect their bottom line. While some states, such as New York and Illinois, have enacted laws to ban the privatization of prisons, for-profit prisons have tragically remained a staple of the American criminal justice system, in large part due to the country’s skyrocketing incarceration rates made possible by the War on Drugs.
Bernie Sanders also indicated that the War on Drugs will be a focus of his campaign. “We want to deal with minimum sentencing,” Sanders said Tuesday, “Too many lives have been destroyed for non-violent issues. People that are sent to jail have police records. We have got to change that. Our job is to keep people out of jail, not in jail.” According to audience members, Bernie Sanders also said that his campaign will be addressing marijuana legalization in the weeks to come:
At NV event just now Bernie Sanders said they’d have something to say about marijuana legalization in a month
— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) August 18, 2015
Sounds like Bernie is gonna put out a marijuana legalization platform which would be good for his campaign’s momentum — Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) August 18, 2015
While we’ll have to wait for the platform’s release to get a clear picture of Bernie’s marijuana agenda, this announcement suggests that Sanders is looking to take the lead on the issue — something that most other presidential hopefuls have neglected to do thus far. Rather than directly discussing marijuana legalization as a policy, the Republican candidates have debated over the role of the federal government in imposing prohibition in states that have legalized the plant. While several GOP contenders, such as Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Carly Fiorina, have come out in favor of states’ right to regulate marijuana, others argue that federal prohibition should be enforced in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Sanders’ Democratic rivals, on the other hand, have stayed mostly silent on the issue during the course of their presidential campaigns.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.