Criminal Justice

Debate's Best Moment: Trump and Biden Bragging on Prison Reform

The U.S. incarceration rate peaked in 2008, but it's good to see two "law and order" candidates talking about clemency.

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One of the best moments in the year's final presidential debate came during a moment of relative agreement: Both President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden repudiated the long legacy of politicians bragging about locking ever larger numbers of people up.

Despite being a self-declared "law and order" candidate, Trump took Biden to task for the former senator and vice president's role in passing federal crime legislation that "put tens of thousands of mostly black young men in prison" while bragging about the "criminal justice reform, prison reform" he himself passed (such as 2018's FIRST STEP Act, which reduced the sentences of thousands of drug offenders). Trump also touted his record on granting clemency and pardons, which is ahead of the numbers that Barack Obama had at the same time in his presidency. While Trump erred in saying that Biden had called young black men "superpredators" back in the 1990s (that was Hillary Clinton), he was right that Biden was—in the words of Reason's Justin Monticello—"a leading architect of the modern criminal justice system, contributing to mass incarceration and the police misconduct that people are protesting today."

Biden, who has run away from his indisputable tough-on-crime track record, stressed the leniency displayed by the federal government when he was vice president, noting several times the "38,000 prisoners [who] were released from federal prison" during the Obama administration. He even went so far to claim credit for starting the examination of police brutality in the wake of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. "We were the ones that put in the legislation saying we could look at pattern and practice of police departments and what they were doing," he said, while apologizing for past legislation he supported. "We began the process, we lost an election, that's why I'm running to win back that election and change his terrible policy."

An ardent drug warrior who helped create the office of the drug czar, called for the death penalty for various drug-trafficking crimes, and is still resistant to legalization of marijuana, Biden nonetheless said that there should be no federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses (he misspoke, calling them "minimum mandatories") and that "no one should be going to jail because they have a drug problem." Biden's reforms are heavy on dubious policies such as drug courts and mandatory treatment for arrested users, but they are less brutal than his past stances. For his part—and despite his longstanding criticism of recreational drug use, including drinking alcohol—Donald Trump has long supported legislation that would turn control over marijuana back to the states.

If such moments of broad agreement were rare last night, they are no less welcome. The U.S. incarceration rate (federal, state, and local) peaked in 2008, but America still boasts the world's highest incarceration rate (about 665 people per 100,000 population), higher than such open-air prisons as Cuba (510) and Turkmenistan (583). So there is still much to be done.

In the final days of a remarkably mean-spirited presidential race, it's good to see the Republican and Democratic nominees touting the number of people they've let out of jail rather than beating their chests about how many bad guys they've put away. Major political change tends to happen when both parties have reached a consensus, not when they're fighting against one another. This is true of positive changes (civil rights legislation passed with large majorities) and negative ones (as Biden himself noted, much of the tough-on-crime legislation he pushed had nearly unaminous support). Last night's rough agreement on criminal justice reform is a sign that the carceral state is on the wane.

NEXT: Was the Final Presidential Debate Incomprehensible to Normies?

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  1. So we’re giving Biden credit for unjustly imprisoning thousands of people, and then decades later realizing it was a bad idea only when political pressure forces him to make that admission?

    1. Apparently so.

      1. It’s like the government breaking your legs, then giving you crutches so it can brag about how good it is at healthcare.

        1. Sad how often that positioning gets lauded by people.

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        3. >>then giving you crutches so it can brag about how good it is at healthcare…

          twenty-seven years later.

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    2. Well, SOME might give him credit. Not me.

    3. I’ve read every platform from 1840 through 1972 and then some. Never in a single one did a political party admit it had ever been wrong about anything. Does anyone expect truth from looters?

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  2. We need to end the entire unconstitutional drug war.

    Some day future Americans will look back at this time of madness with the same disdain as they have for slavery.

    1. What’s especially maddening is that we did this once already with alcohol prohibition and had all the same problems. It causes a black market which can result in dangerously tainted products, and it cedes the entire industry to organized crime.

      It only took 13 years for us to realize how bad an idea that was with alcohol, how many decades will it take us for all the other intoxicants?

      1. “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt.”
        -Ayn Rand

        That is why I doubt the war on drug users will ever end. Without it there really isn’t enough crime to justify the police state we live in.

        1. I’ve often wondered if one reason for the left leadership egging on all the woke bullshit is to have a new excuse standing by as the drug wars wind down. Not intentional; they don’t plan ahead like that. But a gutteral instinct that there must always be something to hold over people, and as pot is legalized, they feel their grip loosening and automatically cats their eyes around for some new crime to pin on people at will. This also helps explain the global warming alarmists and the COVID-19 lockdowns.

          Always got to have some means of scaring and controlling the populace.

          The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

          — H. L. Mencken

          1. We’ve got to protect our phony-baloney jobs, gentlemen.

            – Governor Lepetomane

            1. love this quote.

        2. “Without it there really isn’t enough crime to justify the police state we live in.”

          I think you might be surprised…

          That said, it needs to go. All of it. Rescheduling Marijuana would be a fantastic start.

          1. And vastly overdue. Schedule 1 is limited to substances with *no* medical use. Even fuckin’ *cocaine* isn’t schedule 1, and the FDA has approved marijuana for medical applications.

            It should be descheduled entirely of course, but it’s just extra special angrymaking when they refuse to play even by their own bullshit rules.

            I know, I know, FYTW.

            1. I thought coke was fairly essential for a lot of ENT surgery. Great anesthetic and vasoconstrictor.

              Doesn’t matter to me though. Open it up. Get the cops hunting malum in se crimes for a change.

              1. It is, which is why it’s schedule 2, not 1.

                My ranting was mostly just about how absurd it is that marijuana is still schedule 1.

                Yes, we should just legalize. Everything.

      2. The problem is the other drugs aren’t so popular. And fairly central to our culture in ways that other things aren’t.

        1. if you legalize drugs what will doctors do, most of their job is giving prescriptions that we could do for our selves

        2. >>aren’t so popular

          if x was as plentiful as the green there would be world peace.

      3. Yeah. The failure to learn from our own mistakes (as a country) is vastly humiliating.

      4. Alcohol and drug prohibition enforcement directly caused the Crashes and Recessions of 1907, 1929, 1971, 1987, 2008 and both Flash Crashes. Observe that all these big ones occurred with God’s Own Prohibitionists in office.

  3. Politicians as weathervanes. How novel.

  4. Well, Trump can brag that he successfully separated children from parents, and now owns the fact that our government can’t put back together 500 kids with their parents. But he’s proud they’re being well taken care of…at least he says they are, but you know, it’s Trump saying it…

    What a proud moment for our country…well, the commenters here I guess, anyway.

    1. I think we all really appreciate how you pretend to care about children.

      1. I’d wager it’s not the first time he’s climbed atop a pile of children either.

        1. FLAGGED For QAnon content.

          1. Didn’t work. You like your candidate have failed.

          2. Troll or stupidity?

            1. U of OBL

            2. I dunno if “troll” is the right term, but I strongly suspect that it’s abusing Poe’s Law for intended humor.

      2. Oh, I guarantee you Buttplug cares about kids, but not in a good way.

    2. Chase Jennings
      @SpoxDHS
      ·
      Oct 21
      This narrative has been dispelled. In the current litigation, for example, out of the parents of 485 children whom Plaintiffs’ counsel has been able to contact, they’ve yet to identify a single family that wants their child reunited with them in their country of origin.

      Kind of hard to reunite the children when the families are refusing custody because they want their kids to remain in the US.

      1. And you believe this line of BS because you think parents in South America are willing to give their children away to stay in a cage in a foreign country as opposed to American parents, or because you yourself would be willing to give away your children to be raised as orphans?

        1. So you’ll be shocked to learn that families have even sold children to coyotes to help people claim asylum and be released?

          https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-border-patrol-dna-20180508-htmlstory.html

          Being ignorant doesn’t mean you’re right.

          1. Well, that comes from that GWC organ, the LA Times, so you don’t expect Jackass to believe that, do you?
            Hey, Jackass! Still waiting for an explanation on how the incantation ‘FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE’ makes those nasty wildfires go away.

            1. Sadly, unlike “Biden4Liberty”, I’m pretty sure that one is serious. :-\

          2. That article from 2018 says nothing about the 545 children who are now parentless. And has nothing but anecdotes that some children arrive without children, no real statistics. Know why? Because there was never any attempt by the Trump admin to determine a safe way to keep children with parents. Of course your assumption would have to be all 545 were sold by horrible parents. Not surprised.

            But we did learn something from you anyway…you’d be willing to sell off your children, given how cavalierly you make assumptions of the parents of all 545 of those children.

            Let me know when you, or the Trump admin, have any idea of who these children, who you separated, are in reality.

            1. No, the Statement from DHS talks about those kids. Whose information you flatly dismissed because your entire assumptions are based on ignorance and lack of knowledge about unaccompanied minors.

              But we did learn something from you anyway…you’d be willing to sell off your children, given how cavalierly you make assumptions of the parents of all 545 of those children.

              Not to be like WK, but citation?

              I merely stated what has been stated by those in charge of finding parents. The parents are refusing custody because they want their children to remain in America instead of returning to their country of origin. You seem ignorant to basic facts.

            2. “Let me know when you, or the Trump admin, have any idea of who these children, who you separated, are in reality.”

              Jackass, let me know when you, or any other lefty shit, have any idea how that incantation can make those nasty wildfires go away.

        2. The truth is neither you nor anyone truly knows in this age of government exaggeration and bullshit journalism.

          Its entirely possible that some of these families are giving up custody to the US on the off chance they might escape war, crime, poverty and be raised in a stable environment. The itself number seems unbelievable high to me, which indicates its been either falsified, misinterpreted or the level of violence in those countries is in fact just that bad.

          In case anyone is interested, here is the source for the statement:
          (a DHS spokesperson) https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/lawyers-say-they-can-t-find-parents-545-migrant-children-n1244066

          1. It’s not like this behavior is unheard of from history. When times were harder, poorer, etc, poor parents who couldn’t keep their kids safe of fed frequently sold their kids to be servants in wealthy homes or sent them to the Americas in ships in hopes they’d have something better elsewhere.

            It’s absolutely foreign to us in our largesse.

            1. isnt that the whole setup to the movie A Knights Tale? even hollywood knows about that

  5. America’s imprisonment rate has dropped to its lowest level since 1995, led by a dive in the percentage of blacks and Hispanics sent to jail during the Trump administration, according to a new Justice Department tally.

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/washington-secrets/under-trump-black-prison-rate-lowest-in-31-years-hispanics-down-24

    1. Trump is just the worst. He can’t even racism correctly.

      1. Worst. Hitler. Ever.

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  7. I like that we’re sitting here pretending that, among the 10% of people in the 90s who didn’t want tough-on-crime legislation were the crotchety scaredy-pants conservatives pretending to be libertarians here.

    1. Fuckface, you have an endless supply of strawmen, but they are all faulty.
      You should try to get a refund, but the seller probably already knows you couldn’t tell the truth to save your life.
      Fuck off and die.

    2. “Everyone’s a monster so it’s OK that I am too”

      -Tony

      1. I was too young to be political in the 90s, but I do remember that even many of the people who are now progressives were spending all their time complaining about how prisoners get to watch too much TV and New York was on the verge of anarchy. All Biden can do is apologize for the (marginal, since it is not the federal government doing most of the incarcerating) harm he did and move on with the zeitgeist. Meanwhile Trump is actually campaigning as if it were still the 90s and what he thinks the suburbs want is fewer free black people.

        1. “I was too young to be political in the 90s,…”

          You’re too stupid to be involved now.

        2. Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore (D) suggested that drugs should be decriminalized in the late 1980s. He was vilified by Democrats such as Charlie Rangel who called him and others like him a “new breed of black elected officials” (racists!). And their were threats by both sides of withholding all federal funding to Baltimore (maybe MD been awhile) if he acted on his plan.

    3. I was smoking weed in the 90s and didn’t want it to be illegal. Fuck Joe Biden, Trump is way better on drug.

  8. “…The U.S. incarceration rate peaked in 2008, but it’s good to see two “law and order” candidates talking about clemency…”

    Even better that one of them did something about it.

  9. >>While Trump erred in saying that Biden had called young black men “superpredators”

    you keep writing this but B called them “predators” on the floor of the Senate during a speech … be thorough

  10. So long as both looter parties copy Libertarian planks after losing, I’m happy.

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  13. It looks like communist countries like to incarcerate people.

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