Julián for the Future
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Contact: Sawyer Hackett

Julián Castro Unveils First Chance Plan To Overhaul Criminal Justice System

Plan would focus on prevention over prisons, restorative justice, and ending the over-policing, over-criminalization, and over-incarceration in neighborhoods across the United States
SAN ANTONIO, TX (October 23, 2019) – On Wednesday, October 23, 2019, presidential candidate, former Obama Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, Julián Castro, unveiled via Medium his First Chance plan, a sweeping criminal justice platform unrivaled in the Democratic field. In June, Secretary Castro was the first candidate to release a plan to reform policing. While traditionally, criminal justice reform has focused on ensuring a second chance after incarceration, Castro’s First Chance Plan focuses on prevention and investing in marginalized communities to ensure every person has a first chance to succeed.

The First Chance plan is centered on the prevention of incarceration through a holistic approach, investmenting in equitable education, affordable housing, Medicare for all, environmental justice, foster care, immigration reform, Indigenous communities, a 21st Century Safety Net, and efforts to lift up entire communities that have been left behind. Addressing the epidemic of gun violence, including by the police, is also a top priority.

The First Chance plan also includes a sweeping overhaul of the criminal justice system into a restorative justice system by reforming the juvenile justice system, addressing the criminalization of youth, ending pretrial detention, eliminating mandatory minimums, and ensuring a fair trial for every person by enacting plea reforms and investing in public defenders.

The plan would also reform prison conditions to ending solitary confinement as punishment, abolishing the death penalty, closing for-profit prisons, ensuing fair treatment of LGBTQ individuals and people with disabilities, and creating a First Chance Advisory Board of current and formerly incarcerated individuals for further improvements.

After people have served their time, they will be able to access Second Chance Centers, a one-stop shop for individuals to get advice and access to opportunity to improve their lives, have their voting rights restored, and become productive members of society.

“We talk a lot about second chances in our criminal justice system, but too many young people don’t truly ever get a first chance in life. I will work hard as president to deliver that first chance to them,” said Secretary Julián Castro. "Schools that are failing them, lack of opportunity, and over-policed neighborhoods are setting our kids up for failure. I'm proud to put forward a First Chance Plan to prioritize prevention over prison, promote restorative justice, and ensure all Americans have an effective first chance in life.”

Following the release of his First Chance Plan, Secretary Castro will travel to Waterloo, Iowa and participate in a criminal justice town hall with families and community leaders.
Secretary Castro’s First Chance plan and criminal justice platform can be viewed here and below:

The First Chance Plan

I grew up on the West Side of San Antonio, a working-class Latino community where most folks do not get a first chance. If you mess up or miss an opportunity, you’re more likely to end up in prison than walk across the graduation stage. Where I’m from, only a few folks complete college and too many enter the criminal justice system. Traditionally, the conversation around criminal justice has centered on a second chance after incarceration, and that’s important and addressed in this plan, but we also need to ensure that every person has an effective first chance to succeed. No matter your background or where you live, you should have a real shot at a better future. I want us to focus on prevention, not prison, and a more holistic framework to achieve restorative justice. All of us want to live in a nation where people are free to pursue full potential -- an America that works towards our highest ideals and ensures justice for all.

The fact is that many folks do not even have a first chance, much less a second one. Affordable housing is often inadequate and indecent, roads turn into rivers during flash floods, the air and water contain too many pollutants, immigrants fear family separations, health care is a privilege afforded only to some, the public schools are under-resourced and underserved, and gun violence, including by the police, is killing people. Today the criminal justice system punishes poverty and communities of color more that it advances justice.

We need a new approach to criminal justice, one that prioritizes prevention, not prison, creates a restorative justice system, heals the wounds of incarceration, and ensures every person has an effective first chance.

Throughout this campaign, I have connected the dots between different issues, recognizing that people do not live single issue lives, but rather confront multiple challenges that all intersect. This First Chance Plan reflects that reality. Criminal justice reform is a moral imperative, but it’s insufficient if we do not also address public education, affordable housing, health care, climate change, immigration reform, gun safety, and if we do not lift up entire communities that have been left behind.

The best way to reduce the number of people incarcerated is to have fewer people enter the criminal justice system to begin with.

An effective first chance starts with an equitable education: universal pre-K, quality public schools with higher teacher pay, tuition-free universities, community colleges, and job training. We will break the school-to-prison pipeline. We also know that the quality of your education depends on  where you live. My People First Housing plan creates more affordable housing and less segregated neighborhoods. People of color and low-income communities are also disproportionately impacted by climate change, and that’s why I support a Green New Deal and new civil rights legislation to hold corporations accountable for environmental harm. A first chance also includes reforming the immigration system to keep families together and support for Indigenous communities to pursue justice, particularly for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The most marginalized communities have never had a real shot and this First Chance plan is about making sure that everyone counts in America.

We waged a failed War on Drugs that became a siege against people who are poor, the most vulnerable individuals, and the most marginalized communities. Today more than 2 million people are incarcerated, and more than half a million folks are locked up for non-violent drug offenses, disproportionately young African American and Latino men. The human costs are staggering: families torn apart, billions wasted in taxpayer dollars, and the lost potential of a generation. Tough on crime politicians and the 1994 crime bill enabled the over-policing of communities of color, creating a system of mass incarceration and a less just nation.

In June, I was the first presidential candidate to put forward a plan to reform policing. We have all seen the horrifying videos of Black men and women who were killed by law enforcement. We do not have to accept gun violence by the police. We need a national use of force standard, a federal database of decertified officers and information on incidents of police abuse, and an end to qualified immunity so families can seek justice. No matter who you are or where you live, seeing the police should make you feel safe, not in danger.

We must transform our entire criminal justice system into a restorative justice system. That starts with reforming the juvenile justice system by ending the criminalization of youth, expanding the juvenile system to age 21, and keeping the records of minors confidential. Young people who make a mistake early in life should not be punished forever. Furthermore, everyone deserves a fair trial and no one should be in jail because they can’t afford to make bail. I will enact plea reform, eliminate mandatory minimums, reduce pre-trial detention, and make court more accessible. A fair process aiming for rehabilitation, not incarceration, should be the goal of our justice system.

Even when people end up in prison after a fair process, they should be treated with dignity as human beings. First, we will close all for-profit prisons and reform the civil asset forfeiture process. The financial incentives of a corporation or government should never encourage excessive punishment.  I also support abolishing the death penalty. A government killing its own people is immoral and we have seen too many cases of DNA exoneration. How many times have we put an innocent person to death? We will also end the use of solitary confinement for punishment, as it’s cruel and unconstitutional. As president, I will create a First Chance Advisory Council of formerly incarcerated people to inform how we can improve prison conditions and prevent incarceration in the first place.

Once folks have served their time, we have an obligation to build a path forward for them to become productive members of society. As president, I will create Second Chance Center across the country to provide one-stop shop centers for formerly incarcerated people to get all the advice and assistance they need in one place. That includes making Pell Grants and educational opportunities available to current and formerly incarcerated individuals. People need hope and a chance to pursue a better future. I will expand job opportunities with initiatives such as ban-the-box and also restore voting rights for people to fully participate in our democracy. Using the clemency powers of the president, I will reduce excessive sentences of non-violent offenders. We need need leadership in the Oval Office to advance justice for all Americans.

At the core of the First Chance Plan is the principle that everyone deserves an effective first chance to succeed. For decades, communities of color have been disproportionately punished by the justice system while at the same time having the odds stacked against them from the beginning. Many people never had a first chance and this plan will right that wrong. As a nation, we need to focus on preventing crime in the first place, not creating pipelines into prison. We can build a system that advances real justice, not incarceration, to protect public safety and build stronger communities. Together, we can work to heal the wounds of incarceration and create a more just nation. This First Chance Plan will help ensure that in America everyone counts.

Prevention Not Prison

In a democracy, the government is supposed to work for all of us. But in many communities, the first experience people have with government are with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Meanwhile, issues such as failing schools or the lack of adequate housing go unaddressed. These challenges disproportionately affects communities of color and too often lead to incarceration instead of a chance to succeed. We need a new approach that focuses on prevention not prison.

  • Justice for Communities of Color. By nearly every measure from home ownership to maternal mortality rates to graduation rates, the racial injustice upon which our country was founded remains entrenched today. This inequality is exacerbated daily by punitive policies that criminalize the mere existence of people of color, often with deadly consequences. As president, I will prioritize racial and economic justice in our country’s most marginalized and oppressed communities.
  • Equity in Education. We will break the school to prison pipeline. Schools are supposed to help our children succeed - not send them to jail. As president, we will implement my People First Education Plan, including racial justice-focused provisions such as eliminating the achievement gap, ensuring free lunch for all students in need, increasing teacher diversity, and reforming student discipline practices to combat unfair, harsh, and unequal disciplinary methods in our schools. Additionally, I will decriminalize truancy nationwide by investing in full-time caseworkers to intervene in productive and non-punitive ways when a student starts missing school.
  • Housing is a Human Right. Over 50 years after the end of Jim Crow, our neighborhoods and communities remain segregated. As part of my People First Housing Plan, I commit to tackling the ongoing racial disparities in housing, generational wealth, and homeownership that contribute to racial inequality. Additionally, I will decriminalize homelessness, and end family, youth and child homelessness by the end of my first term and chronic homelessness by 2028.
  • Environmental Justice. In my People and Planet First Plan, I propose new civil rights legislation to protect communities from corporate polluters and require all federal actions to be reviewed for environmental and health impacts on low-income and marginalized communities by law to ensure they do not result in disparate health and environmental impacts. I also will work to fight contamination in communities of color, including by committing to eliminate lead as a public health threat with a $50 billion plan to remediate our communities of lead and ensure a tragedy like Flint never occurs again.
  • Invest in Foster Care. Unfortunately, for most incarcerated people, their interactions with the government start well before any crime is committed. About 80 percent of inmates incarcerated in prisons have previously spent time in the foster care system and a quarter of foster youth find themselves in prison within two years of emancipation. My Children First Plan for Foster Families keeps families together, reduces reliance on the foster care system, and improves outcomes for the children and youth in our country who need our assistance. I do not blame the noble people who support foster youth, but rather support investments in foster children while they are in the system to ensure they have opportunity and can fulfill their dreams. I believe no criminal justice plan is truly comprehensive without adequately addressing the foster care system.
  • Immigration Reform. Our nation’s ever harsher immigration enforcement has not just inflicted harm on undocumented people, but has devastated entire communities, broken families, and left millions of U.S. citizens fearing for the safety of their undocumented loved ones. In my People First Immigration Plan, I commit to ending 287(g) agreements between local law enforcement and federal immigration agencies that undermine trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities. Additionally, I will end the criminalization of border crossing by repealing Section 1325, forever ending family separations and reducing the federal prison population.
  • Indigenous Communities. Native Americans face disproportionately high rates of incarceration and police violence, in large part due to the systematic disenfranchisement and marginalization of tribal nations. My People First Plan for Indigenous Communities will strengthen tribal sovereignty, honor treaty commitments, and ensure justice for indigenous women. We will advance new tribal-federal partnerships to improve the lives of indigenous people across our nation.
  • A 21st Century Safety Net for Working Families. Every year the United States spends $180 billion on policing and incarceration. Much of this money would be better spent ensuring under-served communities have the resources they need instead of falling into the criminal justice system due to a lack of other options. As part of my, Housing, Health Care, and Economic Plan for Working Families, I will create a 21st Century Safety Net including $3000 dollar child tax credits, tenant rights, raised minimum wage, universal child care, medicare for all, a right to shelter, and ending the distinction between mental health care and health care. This will do more to prevent crime in our nation than decades of failed punitive policies ever did.
  • Police Violence is Gun Violence. In many low-income and minority communities, violence is a regular part of life. Too many people, especially young men and boys of color, are missing from their families and communities. Nationwide, Black children are 14 times more likely to die of gun homicide than their white counterparts. Historically, the response of government to this violence has been yet more violence, with the ever-increasing militarization of our law enforcement contributing to a deep feeling of mistrust and fear in the very communities they were meant to serve. We need to recognize that gun violence affects some communities more than others and police violence is also gun violence. As president, I will make saving the lives of young people of color a priority.
  • Ending Police Violence. We are facing a national crisis and must act with urgency to fix our broken system. My People First Policing Plan restricts the use of deadly force unless there is an imminent threat to the life of another person and all other reasonable alternatives have been exhausted. We will also end qualified immunity for police officers, making it easier to hold offending officers accountable under criminal and civil law and create a national public database tracking police officer misconduct. I will also promote non-armed responses to 911 calls by establishing partnerships between mental health units and other first responders, including crisis intervention services by medics, counselors, and social workers, rather than armed police officers.
  • Stop Racial Profiling. Millions of Black and Brown Americans have a story about being racially profiled by law enforcement - a humiliating experience with at times deadly consequences. As part of my People First Policing Plan, I will pass legislation ending racial profiling and stop-and-frisk policies, require police departments to screen for prejudice and demonstrate accountability for all instances of biased policing. Our goal is to create police forces that represent the communities they serve.
  • Invest in Community-Driven Violence Prevention Programs. As president, we must focus the greatest efforts on solving gun violence on where most of our gun violence occurs. As part of my Plan to Disarm Hate, I would raise the excise tax on firearms and ammunition to 20 percent and use new revenue for evidence-based, community-driven gun violence prevention programs, with an emphasis on conflict-resolution, trauma-informed care, and community healing.
  • End the War on Drugs. Drug use and addiction is primarily a public health challenge. In dealing with it primarily as a criminal issue, we have shattered communities, strengthened criminal groups, and locked up those who did not deserve it. As president, I will bring our misguided War on Drugs to an end.
  • Legalize Marijuana and Expunge the Records. In 2017, there were almost 700,000 marijuana-related arrests in the United States, with over 80 percent of them related to possession alone. As president, I will legalize marijuana and expunge the records of those convicted for non-violent marijuana offenses. We will regulate the market and place a tax on all recreational sales, investing billions in revenue generated in the communities disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs. Lastly, I will support equity in the legal marijuana industry, including by creating new grant programs that support minority-owned businesses and prioritize people directly affected by the war on drugs in receiving marijuana business licenses.
  • End Racial Sentencing Disparities. I will eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, and order a federal review of all other sentencing guidelines to identify and eliminate other racial disparities.
  • Public Health Approach to Addiction. I will address the opioid crisis and other challenges of drug addiction as primarily public health issues, not seek to further harm the individuals and communities suffering addiction. I will invest in new initiatives to prevent dangerous drug use and treat addiction. I will also hold pharmaceutical executives who helped spark the opioid crisis accountable for their role in the suffering of millions.

A Restorative Justice System

Decades of misguided policy, including the 1994 Crime Bill, created a system designed to lock people up and to keep people locked up. As a result, there are now 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States. Everyone makes mistakes in life, but only some folks are incarcerated. People are treated differently depending on the community they live in, the color of their skin, the resources and networks they can call upon, or simply by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. In America, everyone deserves equal justice under the law. As president, I will transform our criminal justice system into a restorative justice system.

  • Juvenile Justice Reform. The juvenile justice system should minimize the harmful and negative impacts the justice system can have on young people so they can learn, recover, and become productive members of society. In practice, the juvenile justice system is instead a significant obstacle to opportunity for thousands of American children. For example, 6 out of 10 students who attend school in a juvenile facility will never re-enroll in school upon release and, of those who do re-enroll, far fewer of them will go on to graduate from high school. The juvenile justice system becomes a driver of mass incarceration and racial disparity. As president, I will reform our juvenile justice system to ensure the children in the justice system are treated with care and every young person has a chance to prosper.
  • End the Criminalization of Youth. Thousands of children encounter the juvenile justice system for normal teenage behavior, such as drinking underage, skipping school, or staying out past curfew. As president, I will set a stricter standard for juvenile incarceration to reduce the number of kids incarcerated, and ensure that children are separated from their families only when absolutely unavoidable. Instead, youth should be served in their homes and communities whenever possible, leading to both better outcomes for youth and millions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. I will focus our resources on supporting state efforts to abolish youth prisons and redirect money saved directly into community-based, accessible, trauma-informed, and developmentally appropriate programs. I will also fully fund the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education to track and respond to allegations of mistreatment based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability in the youth justice system.
  • Raise the Age of Juvenile Justice. Every year, tens of thousands of minors will spend time in adult prisons and jails across the country. I will pass legislation to prohibit the practice of trying minors as adults and holding minors in adult facilities. I will also enable individuals up to the age of 21 to be tried through the juvenile justice system. Young adults aged 18 to 21 developmentally have more in common with youth in the juvenile justice system and are less likely to recidivate later in life. Specialized, rehabilitation-focused care for these young people is more effective to prevent crime in the future.
  • Keep Youth Records Confidential. Many young people in juvenile and criminal justice systems did not get a fair first chance in life due to circumstances beyond their control. Young people who have been through the juvenile justice system still deserve a first, not second, chance . As president, I will pass legislation keeping the juvenile and criminal justice records of all youth confidential—even from law enforcement— and requiring all juvenile justice records to be expunged immediately upon release.
  • A Fair Trial for Every Person. Everyone should have a fair chance at their day in court. Yet across the country, onerous bail requirements, pre-trial detention, and mandatory minimums give prosecutors unfair leverage over defendants, forcing many to accept significant jail time before standing trial. These conditions mock the constitutional right of due process. As president, I will enact pretrial reform to give every defendant a fair trial and honor the true meaning of innocent until proven guilty.
  • End Cash Bail and Limit Pre-Trial Detention. Incarceration, even and especially before trial and conviction, is always traumatic. Pretrial detention should always be the very last resort. Following the example of multiple states and local jurisdictions, I will pass legislation eliminating cash bail and support compensation for individuals who are detained pretrial but are later released or acquitted.
  • Plea Reform and Accountability. More than 95 percent of all federal and state cases that end in conviction involve a plea deal. These decisions happen without a judge or a jury of one’s peers, and often involve prosecutors and police exerting immense pressure, such as pre-trial detention and the threat of excessive sentences on defendants to drive people to take a plea bargain. Under these circumstances, even innocent people have accepted plea deals that involve years in jail,prison, years of monitoring, and permanent records. This is a travesty of justice that must end. As president, I will require open-file, pre-plea discovery for federal cases, requiring the prosecution to turn over evidence to the defense prior to a plea or trial, with appropriate safeguards to protect the safety of witnesses and individuals who may be at risk. Additionally, I will require juries to be informed of plea offers as well as potential sentences so they can understand how much a case is truly worth to the state.
  • Eliminate Mandatory Minimums. Three strikes laws and mandatory minimums are a major driver of mass incarceration. In addition, these laws create steep disparities between the terms of a plea bargain and the likely sentence at trial that defendants face, causing many to abandon their trial rights regardless of the strength of the government’s case or even their own innocence. As president, I would repeal the 1994 Crime Bill’s mandatory minimums and three strikes laws, and encourage State efforts to do the same.
  • Invest in Public Defenders. Every defendant deserves to have effective representation and a fair trial. As president, I will give our nation’s under-resourced and overstretched public defenders the resources they need. We will reopen and expand the Obama-era Office for Access to Justice that President Trump shut down. Second, we will ensure fair caseload limits and pay equality with prosecutors for public defenders at the federal level, and create a new $500 million federal grant program to achieve these standards at the state and local level. I will also pass legislation creating a new loan forgiveness program for public defenders, and will support ushering in a new wave of proggressive prosecutors.
  • Make Court Accessible to All. The people in whose name the courts act should feel welcome at court. As president, I would work to ensure that an interaction with a court of law is not in itself derailing of one’s life. As president, I will pass legislation creating new federal grant funding for public transit agencies that allow people to use their court summons as a free pass on the day of their court dates and reforms to increase the freedom of individuals who are incarcerated to attend court proceedings for issues like family law, with needed safeguards. Additionally, I will establish protections for employees against discrimination on the basis of required court or legal appointments. Furthermore, every court in the country must provide appropriate accommodate for people with disabilities, as defendants, witnesses, juries, and in other parts of a trial. This must include those who have difficulties in communication due to being Deaf or Blind, especially for individuals who do not speak English or American Sign Language, have cognitive or developmental disabilities, require mental health treatment, or do not have access to public defenders who can support their needs.
  • End Abusive Civil Asset Forfeiture. Across our country, civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize money and private property, practically at will and often before criminal conviction. Police departments and local governments, such as that in Ferguson, Missouri, have exploited this practice for their financial gain, disproportionately targeting communities of color. As president, I will take administrative action to restrict the Equitable Sharing Program and pass legislation to end abusive civil asset forfeiture practices at the federal level. Recognizing that much of this injustice is perpetuated at the state and local level, I support incentives for states and local governments to end reliance on fines,fees, and forfeiture for revenue. I will work with states to require criminal conviction before private property is seized, with any proceeds going to the Treasury’s General Fund or their state-equivalent to eliminate any profit motive for local governments or law enforcement, recognizing assets confiscated with due process protections may be used for compensation for victims and other purposes. We cannot have a system where we create incentives for bad police practices.
  • Just Conditions for People Incarcerated. Regardless of the reasons why an individual may be incarcerated, that person is still a human being. The U.S. Constitution clearly states that cruel and unusual punishment is unlawful. Yet the daily experiences of incarcerated people -- violence, isolation, sexual assault, exploitation, abuse -- surely count as cruelty and should be unusual in any just society. As president, I will work to address the scandalous inadequacy of our nation’s prisons and jails to ensure all who are incarcerated are safe, healthy, and treated with basic human rights. Additionally, I will ensure that every incarcerated individual has reasonable access, visitation rights, and contact with their family and loved ones. Just conditions also mean we must require comprehensive collection of data to empower state and local governments to design and implement reforms, community activists to hold leaders accountable, and researchers to fully understand the consequences of our criminal justice system.
  • Close For-Profit Prisons. No one should profit off the incarceration of another. In addition to this moral principle, the commodification of people’s freedom encourages for-profit prisons to cut costs, leading to less pay and training for guards, and reduced safety and dignity for inmates. As president, I will close for-profit prisons and detention centers and end this exploitative system and will require all prisoners to be paid a fair wage for any labor performed while incarcerated. Additionally, I will ban the use of for-profit contractors in prisons and ensure that prisons are not imposing exorbitant fees on essential services such as telephone calls, access to books, bank transfers, and access to health care.
  • Abolish the Death Penalty. There is no moral justification for state-sanctioned killings. Even the worst criminals in our society do not deserve to be put to death. With the pernicious existence of racial bias, the high financial cost of executions, and the disturbing reality that the innocent may be among the condemned, there is simply no justification for continuing the death penalty. As president, I would order an immediate halt to all federal executions and commute the sentences of those on federal death row’s to life in prison. I support federal grants for States to end the death penalty and to re-investigate the cases of those sentenced to death by State courts with new technology and renewed attention, in an effort to end the death penalty once and for all in the United States.
  • End Solitary Confinement as Punishment. Long term isolation in solitary confinement is one of the most harmful policies that remains sadly common in our prisons, jails, and even juvenile justice institutions. It particularly harms those with disabilities and who require mental health treatment. As president, I will support efforts to end our nation’s use of solitary confinement by banning its use for purposes of punishment.
  • Gender and Reproductive Justice. Women and members of the LGBTQ community face particular challenges while incarcerated. As President, I will strengthen enforceent of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to ensure that every state is fully compliant and all people are protected, especially for members of the LGBTQ community who are disproportionately vulnerable to sexual assault. I will pass legislation requiring free access to reproductive health care, including for menstrual products, and prenatal and postnatal health care for incarcerated people who are pregnant and/or new parents. I also support reforms to end the practice of shackling mothers during delivery of a child and guaranteeing access to gender-confirmation surgery and appropriate accommodations for trans people who are incarcerated.
  • Guarantee Disability Rights. People with disabilities are among the most vulnerable populations in our nation, and disproportionately represented in our criminal justice system. People in state and federal prisons are three times more likely to report having at least one disability and the use of violent and excessive force against disabled prisoners or the denial of adequate medical care is widespread. As President, I would direct the Department of Justice to adequately enforce all laws and regulations to protect the rights of disabled prisoners, require prisons to have designated staff empowered to protect the needs of disabled prisoners, require publicly available data collected on the condition of disabled prisoners, and pass legislation reducing the number of disabled people incarcerated in the first place, including by increasing access to criminal justice diversion programs, and providing community-based mental health services.
  • Create A First Chance Advisory Council. No one understands the realities of mass incarceration better than those who have been there. As president, I will create an advisory council of currently and formerly incarcerated people, tasked with advising on better conditions within federal prisons and how to prevent incarceration in the first place.
  • Reform Civil Legal Action in Prisons, Including by Repealing the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The 1995 Prison Litigation Reform Act significantly restricted prisoners’ ability to file lawsuits based on the conditions of their confinement. It notably imposed financial costs for prisoners and created barriers to address mental health injuries. As president, I will work with Congress to repeal the law, a failed product of the tough-on-crime policies of the 1990s, and restore judicial oversight over the prison system.

Heal the Wounds of Incarceration

If the state will take responsibility for trying, sentencing, and convicting an individual, the state must also take responsibility for that individual’s reintegration into society. Investment into criminal justice today prioritizes police, prosecution, and judges at the front-end. We need to match this with an investment in restorative justice at the back-end. Ensuring the government submits a plan to insure formerly incarcerated people have a real chance at securing housing, employment, and education must begin from the moment of sentencing. Not only will this prevent parole violations and recidivism which are an enormous contributing factor to the high rates of incarceration in our nation, but this reflects a compassionate society’s interest in ensuring entire communities and families heal, breaking cycles of violence and poverty, and giving future generations their own first chance to succeed.

  • Second Chance Centers. As mayor of San Antonio, I created Café College -- one-stop shop for everything you need to apply for college. I want to use this community-center model to create a single place in a community where formerly incarcerated individuals can get all the information and help they need to re-engage in society. Too often, social services are a maze of different institutions and organizations, and I want to streamline those opportunities to ensure every person has a second chance after prison.
  • Education for Currently and Formerly Incarcerated People. During and upon re-entry, incarcerated people should have the opportunity to access an equitable education. As president, I will end the discrimination against formely incarcerated people in admissions and financial aid, including repealing restriction on Pell Grant eligibilty for both current and formerly incarcerated individuals. We will support educational opportunities for juvenile and adult individuals who are incarcerated, such as increasing access to high-level classes, and credit-recovery opportunities.
  • Job Opportunities and Social Services for All. Those who have served their sentences and are returning to society are deserving of our support as they get back on their feet. As president, I will pass legislation “banning the box” on employment application forms, making it easier for formerly incarcerated people to find employment and reducing the likelihood of recidivism. In addition to strengthening existing job training programs, I will pursue efforts to increase housing assistance for formerly incarcerated people, recognizing you cannot look for a job without shelter. Lastly, I will pass legislation requiring States that receive benefits to lift the lifetime ban on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits for people with felony drug convictions.
  • Restore Voting Rights. The disenfranchisement of those who have been incarcerated is the cause of some of the most dramatic racial disparities in voting rights that exist today. Nationwide, around 6 million people are denied the right to vote or hold public office because of their criminal records. Returning the right to vote to formerly incarcerated individuals is a racial justice issue as well as crucial to the idea of full rehabilitation. As president, I will pass new voting rights legislation guaranteeing automatic restoration of voting rights to those convicted of crimes who complete their sentences and ensure they can serve on juries and participate in civic life as free citizens.
  • Clemency for Non-violent Offenders. There are an estimated 17,000-plus people serving unjust and excessive sentences in federal prisons right now, often for non-violent drug offenses. As president, I will establish an independent commission to review these cases and make continuing recommendations to the President on clemency. This is the single biggest step we can take to immediately reduce the unacceptable size of our prison population and set an example for the rest of the country that the era of mass incarceration must end.
  • Justice at Every Level. The federal prison population only accounts for between 10 to 20 percent of the population incarcerated in the United States on any given day. Some of the harshest aspects of our criminal justice system are the result of decisions made in state and local governments. In addition to reform the federal system, I will order a top-to-bottom audit of every federal dollar to find the ways in which the federal government subsidizes cruel and harmful practices in state and local prison systems, and support efforts to redirect resources towards restorative justice.