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Bernie Sanders unveils criminal justice reform plan aiming to curb prison population

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 presidential candidate, on Sunday unveiled a sweeping criminal justice reform initiative that aims to end mandatory minimum sentences and cut the United States prison population in half.

Sanders is slated to release the plan, which his campaign says is designed to root out institutional racism and corporate profiteering, during a town hall in Columbia, S.C.

"If we stand together, we can eliminate private prisons and detention centers. No more profiteering from locking people up," Sanders will say in a speech unveiling the plan, according to a statement from his campaign. "If we stand together we can end the disastrous 'war on drugs.' If we stand together we can end cash bail.  No more keeping people in jail because they’re too poor. If we stand together we can enact real police department reform and prosecute police brutality. If we stand together, there is nothing, nothing, nothing that we cannot accomplish."

Sanders's plan calls for a complete "top to bottom" overhaul of virtually every aspect of the current criminal justice system. Among other provisions, the initiative calls for banning private prisons, legalizing marijuana and expunging past convictions for marijuana-related offenses. 

In addition, the plan calls for banning cash bail and civil asset forfeiture. His initiative would also focus on reinstating a federal parole system and "investing in youth diversion programs and alternatives to the court and prison system."

“A very significant number of people who are behind bars today are dealing with one form or another of illness,” Sanders said in an interview with The Associated Press. “These should be treated as health issues, not from a criminal perspective.”

Sanders' package also calls for abolishing the death penalty and solitary confinement. 

The rollout from Sanders comes as lawmakers around the country explore new ways to reduce America's prison population. Several 2020 Democratic candidates have unveiled similar criminal justice reform packages. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden released one in July that called for abolishing the death penalty and getting rid of federal private prisons and cash bail. 

Sanders vowed during his 2016 presidential campaign to abolish for-profit prisons if he was elected. He's also called for more states to join Vermont and Maine in allowing imprisoned felons to vote. 

"I think that is absolutely the direction we should go," Sanders said at a town hall in Muscatine, Iowa, in April. "In my state, what we do is separate. You’re paying a price, you committed a crime, you’re in jail. That's bad. But you’re still living in American society and you have a right to vote.


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