Over the weekend, on a rope line in South Carolina, Joe Biden told a voter he would commit to drastically cutting incarceration in the United States.
In a video shared with BuzzFeed News by the ACLU, Biden tells a man, Keith Albert, who identifies himself as an ACLU voter, that he’d “go further than” cutting incarceration by half.
“Would you commit to cutting incarceration by 50%?” Albert asks Biden.
“More than that. We can do it more than that,” he responds.
Last month in Concord, New Hampshire, another self-identified ACLU voter asked if Biden would “commit to cutting the prison population overall, and specifically the federal prison population, in half” — a slightly different wording.
Biden responded at length about criminal justice policy before telling the woman that he would not commit to reducing the prison population by any percentage target.
“Folks, there are some circumstances in which people should be behind bars, because, in fact, they have committed a heinous crime and they remain a threat to society,” he said in New Hampshire. “But to arbitrarily say, I’m just going to make a commitment I will cut arbitrarily in half or by a third or by 90%, is not a rational way of going about it.”
“The rational way of going about it is to make sure you’re not putting people in jail who have not committed violent crimes; you should put them in work programs,” he continued. “And secondly, what we should be doing is not putting people in jail for crimes that in fact are on the books that really shouldn’t be on the books in my view.”
Asked about whether Biden now supports a 50% cut to the prison population on Tuesday, campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said, “Joe Biden was proud to work alongside president Obama in reducing the federal prison population by 38,000 while they were in office. But much more work needs to be done and he is committed to passing the SAFE Justice Act, ending mandatory minimums, reforming bail, and outlawing private prisons — as well as to investing in job training programs in prisons and the full restoration of voting rights once sentences are served.”
“Joe Biden would also fight to further shrink the federal prison population and to bring down the number of Americans in state-level prisons,” he went on, “Our criminal justice system is in particular failing people of color and Joe Biden is proposing a strong criminal justice package to deliver urgently needed change.”
The full exchange in South Carolina:
VOTER: I’m an ACLU rights-for-all voter—
BIDEN: I’m an ACLU member too, and rated about 100% throughout the whole—
VOTER: That’s awesome. So you’re familiar with our program. The ACLU has a road map for cutting incarceration by 50% through reforms that have been endorsed by both the right and the left, including four other presidential candidates and many conservatives—
BIDEN: I’d go further than that; let me show you my plan.
VOTER: Would you commit to cutting incarceration by 50%?
BIDEN: More than that. We can do it more than that. There should be no — again, get his name, I’ll send you exactly what my program is.
VOTER: But is it a yes or a no?
BIDEN: The answer’s yes.
VOTER: Thank you.
BIDEN: But I got a better plan than you guys have.