President Joe Biden has released a 93 second video, outlining ten steps in his plan to reform the United States justice system. The plan claims to focus on brining equality, equity, and justice to the American incarceration system. President Biden’s ten step plan is an assertion of his commitment to altruistic principles, but it is little more than that. The plan falls short according to key-metrics. To briefly summarize President Biden’s ten steps:
(1) Passage of the Safe Justice Act (H.R. 4261);
(2) Discontinuing of minimum mandatory sentences;
(3) Ending the private prison system;
(4) Increasing drug court funding;
(5) Significant bail reform;
(6) Not allowing juveniles to spend time in adult prisons;
(7) Mandatory drug-treatment instead of jail for drug addicts;
(8) Decriminalizing marijuana offenses and expunging records of related offenses;
(9) Vocational training programs for prisoners; and
(10) No drug addicts go to jail.
Certainly a commendable list of aspirations, but which of these steps is likely to materialize into reality? For this to occur, a step will need either bipartisan support, or funding must be already available. Below, a short analysis of the likelihood of implementation for each step.
(1) The Safe Justice Act is unlikely to be passed at all. It was immediately killed by the House in 2017, and likely replaced by the First Step Act of 2018. President Biden including this as a step makes little practical sense. Instead, President Biden should focus his efforts towards implementing other important acts, such as the First Step Implementation Act of 2021.
(2) To discontinue minimum mandatory sentences, Congress would need to amend hundreds of United States Criminal Code provisions. This would require bipartisan support for an issue that has historically proven controversial. This is unlikely to gain enough support to even be drafted. The more likely and admirable implementation would be to allow judicial discretion in sentencing below the minimum mandatory sentence.
(3) In January 2021, President Biden signed an executive order attempting to end private prisons. The order calls for the Attorney General to end private prison contracts when they expire, a date which is unknown. The order is also subject to appropriations, meaning another operation must be in place before private prisons can be defunded. While this is an admirable first step, it is unlikely to have significant effect.
(4) Increased drug court funding is practical and likely in the short term. If the funds are not currently available, this proposition is likely to achieve bipartisan support.
(5) President Biden does not have control over state bail systems and cannot force State to change their policies. He can push for reform to federal bail systems, but this is unlikely to gain bipartisan Congressional support. This is likely nothing more than a talking point.
(6) Keeping juveniles out of adult prisons is likely an achievable goal. It would likely require more funding to the juvenile prison system, along with the construction of more facilities. If this funding is not currently available, this step could gain bipartisan support.
(7) Mandating drug treatment instead of incarceration for drug addicts would require significant legislation, planning, and funding. This is certainly a possibility, but the legislation would require bipartisan support. This would likely take years before being put into effect.
(8) The general rule is that criminal convictions cannot be expunged, let alone through national legislation. President Biden mass-expunging criminal marijuana convictions would be groundbreaking, making it unlikely to transpire. Moreover, decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level would create a slew of new issues, making the issue unlikely to gain bipartisan support.
(9) The Bureau of Prisons is not a vocational school or technical program. For prisoners to receive training while in prison, the BoP would need to hire private vendors. This would be a significant undertaking. While training is provided to some prisoners at certain prisons, all facilities cannot reasonably offer this.
(10) No addicts in jail would require significant legislation and bipartisan support, likely taking years to enter into effect.
President Joe Biden’s criminal justice reform plan is an admirable statement for its altruistic purposes, but many provisions are unlikely to transpire. The constraints, including: lack of time, legal issues, and lack of bipartisan support, represent a significant barrier to implementation.