Biden: 'Nobody Should Be in Jail for a Nonviolent Crime'

Also says 'every single right should be returned' once someone is out of prison

September 12, 2019

Former vice president Joe Biden said during Thursday's Democratic primary debate that "nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime."

"We're in a situation now where there are so many people who are in jail and shouldn't be in jail," Biden said. "The whole means by which this should change is the whole model has to change. We should be talking about rehabilitation. Nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime."

Biden's comment came in response to concerns from other candidates on the stage that his criminal justice reform plan was "not ambitious enough" to tackle problems with American prisons.

In his response, Biden praised former President Barack Obama's efforts to release "36,000 people from the federal prison system." He added that "nobody should be in jail for a drug problem," saying that crimes related to marijuana should be labeled as misdemeanors. He also said that people currently incarcerated for drug crimes should be released, and "their record should be expunged."

"Every single right should be returned. When you finish your term in prison, you should be able not only to vote, but have access to Pell grants, have access to be able to get housing, have access to be able to move along the way," Biden said. "I have laid out a detailed plan along those lines."

Biden's record on criminal justice has come under fire from Democrats concerned by the fact that he was the primary author of the controversial Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Before announcing his run for president, Biden defended his role in writing the bill, saying he was "not at all" ashamed of it in 2016.

The former vice president has since adjusted his position, saying in April that he "got stuck" writing the bill because he was the chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee at the time.