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Securing Justice

Reforming Our Criminal Legal System

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world and a criminal justice system not focused enough on fairness and justice. In recent years, we have started to change course—between 2007 and 2017, 34 states decreased crime while simultaneously reducing their prison population.Cameron Kimble, Ames Grawert. “Between 2007 and 2017, 34 States Reduced Crime and Incarceration in Tandem.” Brennan Center for Justice. August 6, 2019. But change has not gone nearly far enough or fast enough. We need a leader with the courage to take bold action at the federal level and to drive similar reforms at the state and local level.

It is past time to transform the criminal legal system to one that truly promotes justice, and benefits all of us.

Rebalancing our criminal system and refocusing resources on areas like public health, economic opportunity, and alternatives to incarceration will dramatically reduce mass incarceration and racial disparities in the system. At the same time, it will keep communities safer and save money.

It is past time to transform the criminal legal system to one that truly promotes justice, and benefits all of us. As President Pete will:

Reduce Incarceration

Pete will reduce the number of people incarcerated in the United States at both the federal and state level by 50%. Experts agree that far too many people are locked up unnecessarily.Austin, James, Ph. D., Lauren-Brooke Eisen, J.D., James Cullen, B.A., and Jonathan Frank, J.D. "How Many Americans Are Unnecessarily Incarcerated?" Brennan Center For Justice. 2016. As a result, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world."Highest to Lowest - Prison Population Rate." Institute for Criminal Policy Research. To remedy this, Pete will:

  • Double funding for federal grants for states that commit to meaningful reform. Pete will also 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, and legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions.
  • Eliminate mandatory minimums and direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to explore sentencing caps.
  • Commute the sentences of more people by establishing an independent clemency commission that sits outside the Department of Justice.
  • Fight the profit motive in the criminal justice system. Pete will abolish private federal prisons and reduce the use of private contractors, eliminate the for-profit bail industry, and work with states to cap the amount of revenue cities and counties receive from fines and fees.

Elevate People Committed to Reform

Just as important as having the right policies is having the right criminal justice leaders in place, dedicated to the goal of reducing incarceration rates and unnecessary turmoil within our criminal legal system, while increasing public safety. Pete will:

  • Ensure parity for public defenders’ offices. Pete will push for legislation to provide equal resources for federal defenders as for federal prosecutors. Pete will also explore programs to incentivize states to establish and expand pay parity.
  • Create a federal matching fund to establish and support immigration specialists within public defender offices.
  • Diversify the judiciary. Pete will bring balance to the bench by nominating judges with experience in civil rights and criminal defense throughout the judiciary, and pledges to appoint women and people of color in proportion to their overall representation in our country.
  • Appoint people deeply committed to reforming our criminal legal system. Pete will appoint an Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, and U.S. Sentencing Commissioners who are committed to the fundamental transformation of the criminal justice system.

Promote Justice for Youth

Not only do we lead the world in our incarceration rate as a whole, we also lead the world in youth incarceration. Over 40,000 children are incarcerated throughout the United States on any given day.Sickmund, M., Sladky, T.J., Kang, W., & Puzzanchera, C. "Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement." EZACJRP. 2019. While the overall numbers are slowly declining, the racial gap is getting worse.Olivares, Jose. “Fewer Youths Incarcerated, But Gap Between Blacks And Whites Worsens.” NPR. September 27, 2017. Further, we continue to treat children as adults and subject them to harsh punishments. As President, Pete will:

  • Reduce youth incarceration. Pete will support state efforts to abolish youth prisons and replace them with community-based programs by investing in a new $100 million federal competitive grant program for states and localities to close youth prisons and repurpose them to serve the needs of children.
  • Support state efforts to raise the age at which a child may be prosecuted as an adult and establish minimum ages of criminal responsibility and remove youths from adult courts, jails, and prisons.

  • End the school-to-prison pipeline for youth. Our existing system disproportionately impacts students of color and students with disabilities.“Civil Rights Data Collection.”U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. March 2014. Pete will encourage states to pass legislation that eliminates suspensions for discretionary infractions, such as “disrespect” or dress code infractions, where bias is most likely to seep in.
  • End the automatic transfer of immigrant children in HHS custody to ICE detention on their eighteenth birthdays.Burnett, John. "Migrant Youth Go From A Children's Shelter To Adult Detention On Their 18th Birthday." NPR, February 22, 2019.

Pete will promote partnerships with non-profit organizations that have resources to sponsor these teenagers and provide them with housing and legal services.Burnett, John. “Migrant Youth Go From A Children's Shelter To Adult Detention On Their 18th Birthday.” NPR, February 22, 2019.

End Inhumane Punishment & Incarceration Conditions

A Buttigieg administration will protect the basic humanity of all people, including those who are incarcerated. As President, Pete will:

  • 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."International Human Rights Law on Solitary Confinement." Human Rights First. Summer 2015.
  • Ensure that all correctional and detention facilities provide medically necessary treatment and appropriate detention conditions for trans and gender non-conforming people, women, and people with HIV and other chronic conditions.
  • Remove the Medicaid exception and expand Pell grant access for incarcerated people. Ensure that the cost of fundamental services and programs is not the financial responsibility of people who are incarcerated or their family members. This will include adequate nutrition, phone calls to family members, doctor visits, money transfers, access to public defenders, probation, parole, and incarceration itself. Too often these costs are borne by Black women and contribute to the financial burdens of Black families.Morris, Monique W. "Are Black Women Paying the Costs of Incarceration?" Ebony. September 18, 2015.
  • Promote fair wages and job training opportunities for incarcerated individuals.

Bolster Reintegration

Failing to give people who are incarcerated the tools to succeed after prison does not just hurt them–it hurts entire communities. To help returning citizens reintegrate fully, Pete will:

  • Significantly reduce the use of supervised release on the federal level by limiting it to two years, cutting burdensome requirements and technical constraints, and making it harder to be sent back to prison for small violations of the terms of release."Number of Offenders on Federal Supervised Release Hits All-Time High." The Pew Charitable Trusts. January 24, 2017.
  • Ensure that people with convictions have the freedom to access education, jobs, housing, and health care. Pete will do this by banning the box, increasing the availability of tax credits and bond insurance for employers who hire people with criminal convictions, lifting barriers to public benefits, and encouraging states to offer record expungement.

Reform Policing

Pete’s administration will prioritize reforms to bring better policies, training, and accountability to police.

Practices & Policies

  • Promote legislation that raises the legal standard under which officers are justified to use lethal force and offer incentives for states and localities to adopt more restrictive policies.
  • Support departments that actively strengthen community relationships and implement community policing, and encourage other departments to follow their lead.
  • Invest in community-based health care, especially mental health services, and other front-end social supports. These investments will minimize the need for police officers to serve as de facto social workers and allow them to resume their primary role as guardians of public safety.


  • Promote effective, informed independent civilian oversight of state and local law enforcement agencies.
  • Create a National Review Board. Pete will create a board to focus on creating change in operational systems rather than assigning blame and will provide technical assistance to amend questionable practices,Critical Incident Review Board (CIRB). City of Tucson. August 15, 2019; Goff, Phillip Atiba, Elizabeth Hinton, Tracey L. Meares, Caroline Nobo Sarnoff, and Tom R. Tyler.; Re-Imagining Public Safety: Prevent Harm and Lead with the Truth. Center for Policy Equity. create a comprehensive federal database to document use of force and track officers who are fired from their duties, and work to abolish qualified and absolute immunity so that police officers and other officials can be held accountable for wrong doing.
  • Reinvigorate the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division. Pete will also direct it to investigate law enforcement agencies that have a pattern or practice of violating civil rights and the Constitution.

Training & Recruiting

  • Develop a National Police Academy. Similar to the other U.S. Service Academies, this academy would provide a four-year college degree for individuals interested in public service as a police officer. The curriculum would include standardized police training based on best practices and general education credits culminating in a bachelor’s degree. Upon successful completion, cadets will return to their local communities, complete jurisdiction-specific training, and then agree to a four-year commitment.
  • Create a pipeline for law enforcement employment. Through his New Call for Service plan, a Buttigieg administration will build a diverse pipeline of individuals for the next generation of law enforcement.
  • Invest in rigorous training on implicit bias, crisis intervention, de-escalation, and appropriate engagement with marginalized groups and train first responders to identify and deal with mental health crises.

Ensure Justice for All

While the criminal legal system primarily consists of state and local actors, there are many ways in which the federal government influences practices in our communities. A Buttigieg administration will take full advantage of these opportunities to promote justice. Pete will reduce barriers to accountability by making it easier for everyone to work with law enforcement and bring justice to wrongfully accused.

  • Incentivize states to process their evidence backlogs. A Buttigieg administration will withhold federal grants for states with unjustified backlogs and provide more funding to states attempting to address the issue by expanding successful grant programs.
  • Promote restorative justice. Pete will promote restorative justice programs that engage survivors of crimes in the process and promote alternatives to incarceration where appropriate. Studies show that involving survivors in the justice system makes them more likely to feel that justice has been served. It also helps people who commit crimes to take accountability for their actions and decreases recidivism.
  • Eliminate barriers to immigrants’ cooperation with law enforcement.

Scripture says, “Blessed is he… who secures justice for the oppressed.” With bold action, we can finally bring our criminal justice system in line with our deepest values. If you’re with us, text JUSTICE to 25859.

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