State of the Union

Criminal Justice Campaign Promises Absent From Biden's State of the Union Speech

More than a year into the Biden administration, promises to expand clemency, decriminalize marijuana, and end solitary confinement and the federal death penalty remain unfulfilled.


Absent from President Joe Biden's State of the Union speech tonight was almost any mention of the criminal justice reforms that Biden had promised on the campaign trail.

The White House press office pushed out voluminous "fact sheets" throughout the day touting the Biden administration's successes in improving U.S. infrastructure, fighting gun crime, and its plans to curb inflation, but neither the White House nor Biden had much to say about the sweeping criminal justice platform that he ran on.

"Let's come together to protect our communities, restore trust, and hold law enforcement accountable," Biden said in the sole reference to police reforms in his speech. "That's why the Justice Department required body cameras, banned chokeholds, and restricted no-knock warrants for its officers."

Biden's campaign platform included ending the federal death penalty and solitary confinement, decriminalizing marijuana, and using clemency to free federal inmates serving sentences for some nonviolent and drug crimes. More than a year into the new administration, few of those promises have been fulfilled, frustrating criminal justice reform advocates.

It's not particularly surprising that these issues weren't more prominently featured. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were both reluctantly dragged by their party to the left on criminal justice issues, and rising murder rates have made many Democrats hesitant to stray too close to any "defund the police" rhetoric. (One of Biden's bipartisan applause lines of the night was calling for putting more police on the streets: "The answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to FUND the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities.") But the administration's effort to forget some of the more tangible reforms it promised is not a profile in courage.

The Biden campaign prom­ised to "broadly use [the] clem­ency power for certain non-viol­ent and drug crimes," but the White House has obfuscated and dodged when pressed on when that would happen. Many presidents wait until the final years of their terms to flex their clemency powers. Obama's large-scale clemency initiative didn't really gear up until then. In the meantime, though, there are still federal inmates serving sentences in understaffed, dangerous prisons for nonviolent drug offenses—something that Biden supposedly thinks is an outrage.

Biden halted federal executions last July so the Justice Department could review its death penalty protocols. That moratorium remains in place while the review, apparently, continues.

Other parts of the federal criminal justice apparatus continue to be neglected. A January report from the Brennan Center for Justice noted that the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets federal guidelines, has lacked quorum since 2019 because of vacancies on its appointed roster.

Part of Biden's platform to "ensure humane prison conditions" included ending solitary confinement, "with very limited exceptions such as protecting the life of an imprisoned person." Last June, more than 150 organizations sent a joint letter urging the administration to fulfill that campaign promise. As The Appeal reported, a little-noticed section of a draft executive order from the White House leaked last fall would instruct the Justice Department to ensure that inmates were housed in the least restrictive setting necessary. However, other sections of the draft outraged law enforcement groups, and nothing more has been heard about that executive order since.

Criminal justice advocates were successful in convincing the Biden administration to reverse a policy that would have sent federal inmates released on home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic back to prison, but other wins have been harder to come by.

Qualified immunity reforms died a slow death in Congress and took any chance of a bipartisan policing bill with them. And the Equal Act, which would finally eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, is still waiting for a vote on the Senate floor.

The disparity was, of course, created by a bill spearheaded by then–Sen. Joe Biden.

NEXT: Biden's State of the Union Offers More Useless Solutions to Gun Violence

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  1. OBL is correct.

    1. He's our prophet (PBUH).

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  2. I don't recall Biden offering anything on marijuana. But even if he mumbled something about it, violent crime stats, ridiculous "bail reform" and refusals to prosecute swung that pendulum too far for most people's taste and it forced the pendulum back the other way.

    This is a man whose presidency needed a lot of applause tonight and words like justice/bail reform and expanding clemency weren't going to get him much adulation from the sycophants who need votes from people at home who are generally pissed off about the world these days.

    1. Biden has hurt a lot of people with his idiotic policies and agenda. Now he’s doubling down on the same failure.

      People should be pissed.

      1. Comparison:

        Trying to pull something clean and nice from a dumpster fire. an example of the utter decay rot and immorality of Bidens party ideaology :

        "For People with Disabilities, Sex Work Still Grounded in Stigma..."

        Drudge headline.

        Meanwhile as a bellweather of Leftist ideaology, Russia gets support from Venezuela, another longstanding smoldering Communist dumpster fire nation. One failure begats another.

        Bidens a corrupt senile fool.

        And whatever Mad Max Waters was on last night, it must be hi grade stuff, she looked stoned out of her mind.

        Fuck Joe Biden, or whats left of him..

      2. Even David axelrod said it sucked and it was basically Biden just listing his wish list instead of his actual accomplishments.

        And his idea to get inflation under control is.... Raise minimum wage to 15$/hr

        1. Cost of living doubles.
          Wages go up 50%
          Taxes thereon go up.

          I fail to see a ' win' for anyone but IRS.

    2. "This is a man whose presidency needed a lot of applause applesauce tonight ..."


      Squinting. Nonresponsive. Only responds when prompted. Babbles.

      The Out to Lunch sign is up.

  3. Cornpop was a bad dude. Go Get Him.

    1. So. Ugh refined sugar, and so many empty calories. I’m sure old Joe won’t stop until he gets to the bottom……. Of the cereal box. Unless the promotional toy is at the top.

      1. First, Joe would have to know who he is...

        This DC crowd are starting to look like a nursing home or mental hospital ward..people wandering around aimlessly babbling to thin air.

  4. Why didn’t this picture of SleepyJoe have a circle or arcs on it?
    All the other articles have pictures with the same style.

    1. Someone must have figured out slapping halos on FJB was bad optics.

  5. That picture of Kamala and her terrible smirky smile trying to contain her terrible cackly laugh .... reminds of that video out today of her explaining Ukraine and Russia like she's talking to a 3-year-old.

    1. She is the DEI version of a dumb blonde.

    2. Looks like she's sucking on a lemon.

      1. Pole vaulter
        Sword Swallower
        Sausage stuffer
        She didnt get that round mouth eating square meals.

        Qualified for the 2nd highest Orifice in Govt just bc she has a VJJ?

        And a small time Mayor becomes Transportation Secretary bc he has sex with men.

        Time for fire and brimstone..

        1. To be fair, she's probably the first person ever to fuck her way to the Whitehouse... well, since Kennedy anyway.

  6. No comments on the treatment of the Jan 6 protesters? One of them just committed suicide because of his horrible treatment

    1. Local news.

    2. Why would he mention a bunch of seditious losers who are upset that they are being prosecuted for their crimes? They aren't relevant to anyone but the whining, hypocritical, grievance-peddlers on the far right.

      Anyone killing themselves is a tragedy, but it's not like his situation wasn't self-created. If you don't want to go to jail, don't participate in a riot.

      1. They're being held for misdemeanor crimes, without bail, often on solitary confinement. Yes, they committed a crime but the punishment hardly fits the crimes they've been charged with. The fact that most haven't even gotten their day in court is a violation to a quick and speedy trial.

  7. Wait, you actually took those campaign promises seriously, after his entire career was spent doing the opposite?

  8. Ukranian M.P.on Guthries show:

    "...( Biden) was a total disappointment."

    Yeah, we know.

  9. You know.... the last president actually did sign some criminal justice reform... so it is possible.

    1. That makes Reason even madder. They handwaved the First Step Act, usually giving it a dismissive "Well, it's a start I guess", because the guy doing it wasn't down with the DC cool kids.

      So this is exactly what Ciaramella wanted.

      Criminal Justice Reporter
      Who do you plan to vote for this year? Joe Biden. The nationalists said the libertarian-conservative consensus is dead, and I take them at their word. Also, Stephen Miller is a white nationalist.

  10. I was reminded why I could not cast a vote for Joe Biden. Could not cast a vote for Trump either. Still stunned that the two major political parties have absolutely nothing to offer. Disgusting.

    1. It's partly because we keep nominating and electing people in their 60s and 70s. For the love of God, can we please get some fresh blood and fresh ideas in politics? This Baby Boomer crap has got to stop.

      1. Do you think electing younger people will actually fix the problem? Have you studied some of our younger politicians. Most of them are as bat shit crazy as their older compatriots.

        1. 1 x 10^ infinity power +

          The smart phone generation are going to run things?

          Yes. Strait into the ground.

          Were headed for a bunch of AOC Clones.

          THIS concept IS what term limits is.

          Radical Leftists want DC full if young College programmed Marxists to usher in Glorious Revolution.

      2. That's ageism. Don't be a bigot.

  11. Ciaramella does realize that the events of the past two years have put criminal justice reform in a bad odor, and Biden's dismal approval numbers mean he does not have the political capital to spend on issues he was personally unethusiastic about in the first place?

    1. Criminal justice reform is actually supported across the political spectrum. Basically the only constituencies who oppose it are the lunatic left, who want you to believe that every single criminal is a victim of abuse of power by police, and the radical right, who believes that bias doesn't exist and every action of the police is kosher.

      The majority are in the middle and believe that some cops are bad but most are good (and we should punish the former and support the latter), prosecutorial skepticism is important, mandatory minimum and three strike laws are an obscenity, qualified immunity is a licence to abuse, civil asset forfeiture is inherently abusive, and a host of other mainstream, reasonable criminal justice reform proposals.

      It should be a political no-brainer, but the outsized influence and shrill voices of the wingnuts (and their bottomless pool of cash) make it hard to do. Moderates need to get louder and more visible or America will be owned by the fringes. That is a bad thing.

      1. ....but, reason ( idealogy, not this site) takes a back seat to billions of dollars a year, and the totalitarian power grab and shitting on the Second Amendment that is the Police State. Shitting on the 2A then wiping their asses on the First.

        Bc you know theres a Terrorist behind every bush and the Fat Blue Waistline is gonna protect us.

      2. I have yet to see evidence of substantial, systemic racial bias by the police. When you take actual crime rates into account, police actions reflect reality on the ground. If there is a bias at all, it seems to against whites.

    2. As I understand it Corn Pop is serving a 50 year sentence in a federal penitentiary. If he gets out he's coming after Joe for that ass whuppen he got behind the bleachers. Once he dies of natural causes, Biden will unleash a virtual torrent of criminal justice reform.

  12. Wait. Wait a second. HOLD THE FUCK UP. You voted for Kamala Harris and Joe Biden and expected criminal justice reform.

    K A M A L A H A R R I S ?

    The lady who literally made her political name on trumping up drug charges?



    "I pinky promise to tell the popo to be nicer to the junkies" AND YOU BELIEVED HER

    1. Yeah if you had to come up with a 'systemic racism' ticket, you'd start with the guy who's been writing racist laws for decades and add a lawyer who used those laws to lock people up -- even ones she knew were innocent.

    2. Vote a Political Prostitute for Morals.

      An ultimate non sequiter.

  13. And what happened to his promise to end cancer?

  14. Kinda entertaining to see the Reason writers who campaigned for this clown get their panties in a bunch when he does exactly what most of us expected. But mostly it's just sad.

  15. Lack of criminal Justice reform is among the least of Biden’s broken promises and failures.

  16. As I understand it Corn Pop is serving a 50 year sentence in a federal penitentiary. If he gets out he's coming after Joe for that ass whuppen he got behind the bleachers. Once he dies of natural causes, Biden will unleash a virtual torrent of criminal justice reform.

  17. "...promises...remain unfulfilled."
    The promises were politically inspired, designed to get the speaker elected. They worked as intended, subject closed. Only the naive by choice, i.e., the "willfully blind", i.e., the cognitive dissident, the political zombies, the "loyal, obedient, faithful citizens", the followers of "The Most Dangerous Superstition", would expect more, e.g., an honest effort to work on keeping a promise. Therefore, we can expect most voters to feel cheated, again as usual after every election. No matter. They will "forget & forgive". Thus, we witness the masses enslave themselves, ignore it and keep the system going.

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