Beto for America
Monday, October 28, 2019

Beto Releases Comprehensive Plan to End Mass Incarceration and Reform Our Criminal Justice System to Prioritize Rehabilitation

Proposal ensures our criminal justice system is fair for all, eliminates the profit motive for incarceration, and promotes clemency for 25,000 inmates during his first term while also prioritizing rehabilitation during incarceration, tripling investment in grant funding for re-entry programs to ensure successful transition out of it, and working to achieve equal justice for all.
DES MOINES, IOWABeto O’Rourke released a comprehensive plan today to end mass incarceration while structurally reforming the broken system of criminal justice in this country. At a time when the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 2.3 million people behind bars, this proposal prioritizes keeping people out of the justice system, invests in rehabilitation, and supports successful re-entry. Beto’s plan builds on his consistent leadership on ending the failed war on drugs, which has been one of his main focuses since he was on the El Paso City Council. That doesn’t only mean ending the federal prohibition on marijuana, it also means stopping the use mandatory minimum sentencing, eliminating private prisons, ending the use of cash bail, and reforming policing.

“It’s unacceptable that America, the home of the free, locks up more of our own than any other country on the face of the planet, as we continue to have the world’s largest prison population — disproportionately comprised of people of color,” said O’Rourke. “We will not only reform this racist system but we will work to end mass incarceration by ensuring fewer Americans enter the system in the first place while prioritizing rehabilitation and successful re-entry for those who have been locked out of it—or locked up in it.” 

Iowa has glaring inequalities in its criminal justice system, and its prison population is growing. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, African-Americans make up only 3 percent of Iowa’s population, but nearly 25 percent of its prison population. In 2019, Iowa’s state prison population is the highest it has been in eight years, and Iowa’s state prison population has more than tripled from 1980 to 2016.

The full plan—which can be read here—is focused on two primary goals:

I. Ending Mass Incarceration
  • Beto will ensure our criminal justice system is fair for all by instituting reforms to sentencing, repealing and reforming portions of the 1994 Crime Bill, and investing $500 million into a pilot program focused on developing alternatives to incarceration. He will also end the school to prison pipeline and investigate school districts with statistical discrepancies in discipline, tackle police misconduct and racial bias, and prohibit the prosecution of those under 18 in adult court while preventing juveniles from being incarcerated in adult prisons. 
  • Beto will eliminate the profit motive driving increased incarceration by banning private, for-profit prisons, ending the cash bail system, and reforming civil asset forfeiture. He will also reopen the Office of Access to Justice and ensure the right to adequate counsel through expanded resources for public defenders’ offices while rigorously enforcing the sixth amendment.
  • Beto will promote clemency for individuals in federal facilities by setting a goal to reduce incarceration by at least 25,000 inmates during his first term. Beyond granting clemency at the federal level, Beto will call on Governors to adopt their own aggressive clemency goals. 
II. Reforming Our Criminal Justice System to Emphasize Rehabilitation, Tackle Police Misconduct and Racial Bias, and Offer Mental Health Support For Law Enforcement 
  • Beto will prioritize fair treatment and rehabilitation during incarceration by expanding access to health care, ending price gouging, increasing access to accommodations for individuals with disabilities, abolishing capital punishment, and eliminating the use of solitary confinement as a form of punishment. He will also help prepare individuals for employment by making Pell Grants available to individuals in incarceration and increasing resources to expand access to apprenticeship programs. 
  • Beto will provide support to make post-incarceration transitions successful by tripling federal investment in grant funding for re-entry programs and reinstating a system of federal parole, while encouraging states to find innovative ways to reduce parole lengths. He will also tackle homelessness among formerly incarcerated individuals, expand access to substance use disorder treatment, address mental health needs, and expand skills training opportunities. 
  • Beto will guarantee full enfranchisement to 4.5 million formerly incarcerated individuals by restoring their constitutionally protected right to vote, banning the box to ensure a former conviction does not block access to employment, ensuring fair housing, and providing access to federal benefits. 
  • Beto will address police misconduct and racial bias by directing and fully staffing the Department of Justice to demand police and prosecutorial accountability through federal civil rights enforcement, misconduct investigations, and support of community policing. He will also limit qualified immunity for law enforcement officials who are found to have violated an individual's rights under the Constitution, increasing officer accountability. Additionally, he will invest in providing trainings related to implicit bias, use of force, and de-escalation. This follows his early work on the El Paso City Council in which he called for additional police sensitivity training and argued for more accountability for law enforcement, especially after officer-involved shootings. 
  • Beto will also address the unique health needs of law enforcement, first responders, and civilian staff by expanding mental health services, including increased funding for annual mental health visits and expanding local peer support programs for law enforcement, first responders, and civilian staff. 
This plan is informed, in part, by Beto’s conversations with currently incarcerated individuals, from whom he had a chance to learn during his visits to San Quentin State Prison and the Harris County Jail. He has also had the opportunity to hold discussions with formerly incarcerated individuals in communities across the country. Beto has repeatedly argued that our broken criminal justice system disproportionately and wrongly convicts people of color, individuals without resources for counsel, and individuals with disabilities, including mental illness. In conjunction with his plans to end the war on drugs, eliminate homelessness, and end the opioid epidemic, today’s proposal will overhaul our criminal justice system to make it a more fair, a more just, and a more equitable system for all. It not only protects the rights and dignity of everyone, but it ensures they can live up to their full potential—to the benefit of their lives and all of ours. 
You can read Beto’s full plan here.

Beto’s Comprehensive Plan to End Mass Incarceration and Reform Our Criminal Justice System to Prioritize Rehabilitation

The United States has, by far, the largest prison population of any country on the planet. Our 2.3 million fellow Americans behind bars are disproportionately people of color and people with disabilities — a consequence of policies that have prosecuted certain communities more than others and further perpetuated by a school-to-prison pipeline that sees black children five times as likely to be suspended or expelled as white children and where students of color with disabilities face exclusionary discipline at significantly higher rates than their peers without disabilities.

Our criminal justice system touches far too many American families, and its consequences leave an impact far beyond the incarceration of a given individual. In the U.S. today, 2.7 million children have an incarcerated parent, including 1 in 9 African-American children. Incarceration also places a significant financial burden on family members. It frequently means losing a breadwinner, as more than half of incarcerated male parents were the primary source of financial support for their children. Moreover, families incur an average of $14,000 of debt from court fines and fees.

Beto understands that the conditions under which one is incarcerated, in addition to the duration of their incarceration, significantly impacts one’s ability to successfully re-enter society and contribute to their full potential. If we are to expect those returning citizens to successfully resume a life of societal contribution, we must create a prison system that treats people with dignity and fosters successful re-entry. Support for re-entry of formerly incarcerated individuals begins as soon as they are in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons, and continues through the end of his or her period of incarceration.

Beto has long been an advocate for reforming our criminal justice system, and has spent his campaign talking with individuals who understand the needed solutions, including those who cannot vote. In September, he met with incarcerated individuals in San Quentin State Prison in California, learning about their programs that support rehabilitation, including enrollment in college courses. He also met with formerly incarcerated individuals in Chicago who, through the examples they are setting, are working as advocates in their community.

Beto recognizes that our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform, and to create meaningful reform, we must not only focus on reducing the number of incarcerated individuals, but also do more to ensure those released from prison are equipped to live full lives in which they are integrated into and contributing to their communities.

Beto’s plan will:

1. End Mass Incarceration by:

  • Ensuring our criminal justice system is finally fair for all by instituting reforms to sentencing, repealing and reforming portions of the 1994 Crime Bill, and investing $500 million into a pilot program focused on developing alternatives to incarceration.
  • Eliminating the profit motive driving increased incarceration and exploitation of poverty.
  • Promoting clemency for individuals incarcerated in federal facilities.
2. Reshape Our Criminal Justice System, Emphasizing Rehabilitation Over Punishment, Tackling Police Misconduct and Racial Bias, and Offering Mental Health Support to Law Enforcement by:

  • Prioritizing fair treatment, access to accommodations for individuals with disabilities, and rehabilitation during incarceration.
  • Providing support to ensure successful transition for returning citizens by tripling federal funding for re-entry and justice reforms.
  • Guaranteeing full enfranchisement to 4.5 million formerly incarcerated individuals.
  • Tackling police misconduct and racial bias through DOJ enforcement efforts, limiting immunity from civil lawsuits for law enforcement officials, providing law enforcement agencies with trainings related to implicit bias and use of force, tying federal funding for local law enforcement agencies with the implementation of anti-discrimination and anti-profiling policies.
  • Meeting the mental health needs of law enforcement.
I. End Mass Incarceration.

As president, Beto will work to divert people away from the justice system and reduce our prison population — including children and those with substance use disorders and mental health disabilities. He will also ensure that it is not a “crime to be poor,” which ultimately forces individuals to remain system-involved through unnecessary fines and fees.

A. Ensure our criminal justice system is finally fair for all.

  • Ending the School to Prison Pipeline. The social devaluation of the lives of people of color and those with disabilities begins at the earliest stages of life. A child of color is more likely to be disciplined, suspended, and expelled than their white counterparts and more likely to receive corporal punishment in school. Rates of discipline are even more disparate for children of color with disabilities. To reform our education system and put a stop to the school to prison pipeline, Beto will:
  • Ensure that law enforcement resources are not used to address routine discipline issues in schools and are instead reserved for true emergencies and school safety threats
  • Support the decriminalization of truancy in order to eliminate the prosecution and fines which disproportionately target students of color, and students with disabilities, and their families, and contribute to the school to prison pipeline.
  • Issue a federal ban on corporal punishment in schools, including a prohibition on the use of restraint and seclusion, and provide funding for schools to implement school-wide positive behavior programs and approaches like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Trauma-Informed Care, and Restorative Practices, so that both students and adults feel safe and supported in schools. In addition, implement teacher preparation programs to address intersected racism, classism, ableism, and cultural competency in their curriculum.
  • Investigate school districts with statistical discrepancies in school discipline. Beto will increase funding to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to ensure that the federal government is able to acknowledge and address the most egregious discrepancies.
  • Close the gap in school funding by dedicating $500 billion toward the creation of a Permanent Fund committed to eliminating the funding disparities based on race and income. Funds can be used to close gaps in academic achievement, as well as supporting the social-emotional development, providing funding to both identify and serve students with higher levels of support needs.
  • Require police departments receiving federal funds to provide mandatory training for officers who serve on school campuses to train in addressing implicit bias and youth-focused training as well as strategies to prevent officers from triggering or mis-interpreting a disability-related behavior.
  • Prohibit zero-tolerance policies and criminal charges for behavior in schools that would not otherwise be considered criminal. In nearly half the states, disruptive behavior in school is criminalized, with some states imposing fines and even jail time for students who misbehave. This criminalization of typical adolescent behavior or behaviors that are disability-related contributes to mass incarceration and disproportionately impacts children of color and students with disabilities. Beto will make federal funding for districts contingent upon enactment of these prohibitions.
  • End the prosecution of those under 18 in adult court and prevent juveniles from being incarcerated in adult prisons. Currently, roughly a quarter million children are tried, convicted, or imprisoned as adults every year across the United States. This is a direct consequence of the tough-on-crime philosophy advanced during the 1990s that saw 49 states change their laws to allow for a greater portion of minors to be tried as adults.
  • Reforming Sentencing and investing in alternatives to incarceration.
  • Eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing. Beto will end the sentencing disparity between offenses for crack and powder cocaine, which currently sits at 18:1, establishing a 1:1 ratio.
  • Legalize marijuana and expunge the records of those who have been convicted for possession. Additionally, treat substance use disorder as a public health issue — not a criminal justice issue — ensuring individuals receive access to mental health care and substance use disorder treatment and recovery, not punishment.
  • Invest $500 million into a pilot program focused on developing alternatives to incarceration, with an emphasis on averting juvenile detention and providing treatment and access to recovery for individuals with substance use disorders, alcohol use disorders, and mental health disabilities.
  • Beto will provide incentives to states to reduce sentences by implementing evidence-based sentencing alternatives, allow incarcerated individuals to receive “earned time credits” by participating in more vocational and rehabilitative programs and reform probation to strengthen rehabilitation.
  • Repealing and reforming the portions of the 1994 Crime Bill that contributed to mass incarceration and perpetuated the War on Drugs, including the provisions that allowed prosecutors to charge 13-year-olds as adults for certain crimes and expanded the list of crimes where one could receive the death penalty. Beto will also simultaneously champion the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which is part of the Crime Bill, and provide the resources needed to end the rape kit backlog across the country.
B. Eliminate the profit motive driving increased incarceration and exploitation of poverty. Jurisdictions across the country routinely impose exorbitant and unnecessary fines and fees, usually on their poorest residents, for minor infractions, simple interactions with the legal system, or even for seeking a court-appointed attorney. This is reflective of an overarching profit motive that has curtailed equal treatment under the law. Beto will work to eliminate aspects of the justice system that exploit poverty by:
  • Eliminating private, for-profit prisons, which have been shown to produce disproportionately negative outcomes for people of color. Beto will also eliminate all funding for private, for-profit immigration prison operators.
  • Ending the cash bail system to reduce pre-trial detention — helping keep those who cannot afford to post bail from languishing in jail for minor crimes. Further, Beto will tie federal grant funding to the elimination of exorbitant fees and fines for minor infractions and routine legal processes.
  • Ensuring the right to adequate counsel to guarantee equal access to justice by:
  • Providing adequate resources for public defenders’ offices. Over 80% of criminal defendants cannot retain a private lawyer and must rely on public defenders, contract attorneys, or court-appointed counsel. In order to ensure equal access to justice, indigent defendants must be provided with representation that is adequately funded and possesses sufficient time to properly try their case. Studies conducted in various states across the country have shown that public defenders can have two to five times the workload they should in order to provide adequate defense. It is unsurprising then that 94% of state court convictions come from plea bargains. Further, public defenders are often paid significantly less than prosecutors. One study in Oregon found that lowest-paid public defenders in one county were paid $24,000 less than similarly experienced prosecutors. To address these problems, Beto will:
  • Tie federal grants to competitive pay and training for public defenders in addition to workload limits to guarantee every defendant has adequate representation, and call for a study to determine what resources will be required to accomplish this.
  • Support training for prosecutors and public defenders to help ensure that people with disabilities, including individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, have access to needed accommodations and supports throughout all stages in the criminal justice system.
  • Create a federal Center for Defense Services, which will provide technical assistance, support, and oversight for public defender services throughout the country.
  • Wipe out the outstanding student loan debt of public defenders who have served 5 or more years, and for other public defenders forgive 20% of their principal for every year of service.
  • Rigorously Enforcing the Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel. Beto will authorize the Department of Justice to sue jurisdictions that fail to meet their Sixth Amendment obligations, whether it be for violating caseload limits, compromising attorney independence, or any other action that threatens a criminal defendant’s right to counsel. He will also require that states affirmatively comply with the Sixth Amendment in this regard in order to receive federal grants.
  • Reforming civil asset forfeiture, combating abuse by law enforcement. Civil asset forfeiture permits law enforcement to seize the assets of those suspected of criminal behavior. This practice disproportionately impacts people of color and low-income individuals and is frequently applied to people who have not been charged or convicted of a crime. Reforms include:
  • Requiring a conviction to be obtained before assets can be forfeited to the government.
  • Limiting assets seized to those with a direct connection to the crime for which one was convicted.
  • Placing the burden on the government to establish that the owner of the property had knowledge of its use in a crime.
  • Requiring the appointment of counsel in all forfeitures. There is currently no right to counsel in civil asset forfeiture cases.
  • Increasing transparency with respect to the revenue and distribution of funds collected through civil asset forfeiture.
  • Directing the revenue from civil asset forfeiture toward public defender services.
  • Reopening the federal Office of Access to Justice, which provides greater legal resources for indigent litigants in civil, criminal, and tribal courts. Through this office, Beto will deliver greater funding for civil legal aid, which helps justice involved people and their families navigate re-entry and overcome barriers to employment. This funding will work to close the “justice gap” that sees less than 20% of low-income Americans’ legal needs being met.
  • Eliminating the suspension of drivers’ licenses for one’s inability to pay fines and fees. Across the country, millions of people have lost their licenses because they lack the resources to pay exorbitant fees associated with traffic or criminal violations. 43 states, plus D.C. use the suspension of driver’s licenses to coerce payment, which results in already disadvantaged people losing their means of transportation to their place of employment. This creates a vicious cycle that does nothing but force more people into deeper poverty and actually leaves the state less likely to receive the money from the fines they have imposed. Beto will leverage federal grant funding to states to encourage them to reform their systems.
C. Promote clemency for individuals incarcerated in federal facilities. A unique power of the President is extending clemency to individuals who, despite being charged for low-level, non-violent offenses, are facing extended sentences or whose sentences would have been different if they occurred today. While clemency is a personal decision by the President, Beto would streamline the process. Beto will set the goal of reducing incarceration by at least 25,000 fewer incarcerated persons during his first term. Granting clemency to 25,000 inmates will save the federal government hundreds of millions since the average annual cost of keeping someone in jail is approximately $36,000. Following the recommendations of the ACLU and modeled on President Obama’s 2014 Clemency Initiative, Beto would prioritize reviewing the sentences of elderly individuals (above age 50 when recidivism rates significantly drop) and those in declining health; individuals with disabilities and chronic illness; those who have been incarcerated solely for drug possession; and individuals subject to extraordinarily long sentences. To achieve this goal, Beto will:
  • Expand access to clemency applications by making a uniform clemency application, providing access to needed accommodations, and ensuring that every incarcerated individual is aware of their right to apply for clemency and can access the application online.
  • Work with the Administrative Office of the Courts and reform the Criminal Justice Act to allow federal public defenders to represent individuals in clemency petitions.
  • Encourage adoption at both the federal and state level of “second look” sentencing laws, allowing a judge to review an individual’s sentence after a period of years, evaluate the individual’s behavior while in prison, and if warranted, reduce excessive sentences.
  • Call on Governors to adopt aggressive goals for granting clemency to individuals in their state prison systems.
II. Reshaping Our Criminal Justice System, Emphasizing Rehabilitation Over Punishment, Tackling Police Misconduct and Racial Bias, and Offering Mental Health Support to Law Enforcement

In this country, five out of every six prisoners released from state prisons are arrested again at least once in the nine years following their release, according to a study by the U.S Department of Justice. This alarming cycle is fueled by prejudice and structural barriers in society that prevent individuals who have served their time to build support structures or find economic opportunities once they’ve been released. However, research has shown that certain programs — available both while an individual is serving time and after he or she is released — can significantly reduce recidivism rates and help formerly incarcerated individuals rebuild their lives.

As president, Beto will support reforms designed to help those with criminal records successfully reenter society, live fulfilling lives, and contribute to their families and communities. To fundamentally reshape the nature of our criminal justice system, Beto will:

A. Prioritize fair treatment and rehabilitation during incarceration.

  • Ending price gouging within prisons. The families of those incarcerated are forced to pay exorbitant fees in order to make telephone calls to their loved ones behind bars. In some states, a 15-minute phone call can cost as much as $15 or $20, despite the cost to the phone company likely not exceeding $0.05 per minute to transmit the call. Further, prisoners may pay higher rates for goods in the prison commissary than they would in a local retail market. Given the paltry wages provided for the work they do while incarcerated, this practice must be abolished. As president, Beto will abolish fees for phone calls for incarcerated individuals and direct the Bureau of Prisons to establish free video conferencing for those behind bars to communicate with those outside.
  • Ending the deprivation of health care in prison. Beto will expand access to health care for incarcerated individuals. Although incarcerated individuals in public institutions can remain eligible for Medicaid in many states, federal law prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funds for most health care services except in cases of inpatient care lasting 24 hours or more. Beto will also ensure women receive appropriate care while in incarceration. He will ensure implementation of the First Step Act, which prevents the use of restraints on pregnant women and requires the Bureau of Prisons to provide necessary menstrual products. Beto will also champion the Menstrual Equity For All Act, which requires states to certify they are providing free products to incarcerated women.
  • Ensuring fair treatment of individuals with disabilities. Beto will ensure those in prison have full access to care, in addition to ensuring that those in prison have access to mental health care and provide appropriate care and accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Those currently incarcerated are 3 to 4 times as likely to have a disability than the general population, and 1 in 5 individuals incarcerated in jails have a serious mental illness. Beto will increase investments in community-based alternatives to prison for individuals with disabilities and the establishment of an Office of Disability in the Department of Justice to enact reforms within the criminal justice system. Investing in community-based alternatives to prison for people with disabilities pays for itself because of the money saved by reducing the prison population. For example, in Los Angeles County, the cost of providing assertive community treatment and supportive housing for an individual with a serious mental illness is two-fifths the cost of jailing them.
  • Helping prepare individuals for employment by increasing resources through the Bureau of Prisons to provide life-skills development that will support re-entry post incarceration, including literacy classes, screening and accommodations for individuals with disabilities to be provided an appropriate education, parenting classes, anger management, substance use disorder treatment and recovery programs, GED classes, technology classes, community college classes, vocational training, legal services, and re-entry preparation.
  • Expand access to formal apprenticeship programs designed to provide skills and employment opportunities, which yields a 30% increase in employment following release and, consequently, reduces recidivism rates.
  • Make Pell grants available to incarcerated individuals. Research has shown that formerly incarcerated individuals are 48% less likely to become incarcerated again if they take part in postsecondary education programs in prison.
  • Ending solitary confinement as a form of punishment. Solitary confinement is often inhumane and unevenly applied. The practice harms the mental health of those incarcerated and is traumatizing, particularly for young people and those with disabilities. It also is inappropriately imposed on sexual and gender nonconforming minorities. Research has shown that those subjected to solitary confinement are not only more likely to recidivate, but also likelier to engage in more violent behavior.
  • Abolishing capital punishment at the federal level, which in practice is discriminatory and cruel.
  • Reforming the intake and discharge systems to best maximize successful rehabilitation.
  • Under Beto’s plan, the intake system would involve a comprehensive assessment, evaluating for: disability (to identify need for accommodations as well as access to appropriate education in correctional facilities), educational and vocational levels, family and financial stability, and behavioral and mental health needs.
  • Beto will also reinstate the Bureau of Prisons’ “Transgender Offender Manual” to ensure safe housing for transgender people in BOP custody to address the violence directed at trans women of color.
  • Beto would implement a comprehensive discharge program that addresses the immediate needs of an inmate prior to and immediately following release. This program would link formerly incarcerated individuals to community-based organizations through re-entry navigators and social workers. One month prior to release, state social services agencies would be directed to ensure that incarcerated individuals have access to health insurance upon or soon after their release. Prisons would be required to provide a discharge packet containing necessary documents such as a duplicate Social Security card, birth certificate, non-driver photo ID, voter registration application, medical records, any necessary medical referrals, and, if necessary, a two-week supply of medication — so formerly incarcerated individuals have what they need to re-enter their communities.
B. Provide support to ensure successful transition post-incarceration. Successful re-entry is critical to our nation’s success. For those who have paid their debt to society to fully reintegrate and contribute to their families and communities, we must address the unique challenges faced by those formerly incarcerated and help them rebuild their lives. Successful re-entry leads to greater economic participation and future crime reduction. Our economy loses as much as $87 billion in GDP each year from shutting out workers with records from the labor market. Beto will work to make post-incarceration transitions successful by:

  • Tripling federal investment in grant funding for re-entry programs. Homelessness, lack of access to health care and treatment for substance use disorders, disabilities and chronic illness, and unemployment are all obstacles to ensuring the successful re-entry of formerly incarcerated individuals. Beto will triple the existing grant fund for re-entry programs by providing $3 billion over ten years to encourage states and localities to invest in re-entry programs that address these barriers.
  • Tackle Homelessness Among Formerly Incarcerated Individuals. Establish a goal of ensuring that 100% of formerly incarcerated individuals who are equipped to find housing, obtain it upon release and implement transitional programs that support individuals on conditional release with pre-employment services and placement, registration with social services agencies, life-skills development, and a housing plan upon the end of their sentence.
  • Offer Substance Use Disorder Treatment. Offer substance use disorder treatment programs, including those that serve individuals with co-occurring psychiatric illness, to provide formerly incarcerated individuals with an intensive and comprehensive approach to long-term recovery in four key areas: stabilization and orientation; intensive substance use prevention and education; release and reintegration; and discharge planning that identifies needs requiring continued services, with the goal of preventing overdose and reincarceration. Beto will also encourage states to limit substance-use parole violations to situations where a parolee engages in frequent substance use and fails to attend substance use disorder treatment, preventing the penalization of infrequent violations.
  • Address Mental Health Needs. Provide health care and support to individuals with mental illness, with specific emphasis on mental-health care, disability accommodations and supports, including behavioral supports as necessary, job-readiness and employment counseling; and, if needed, substance use disorder treatment and recovery programs.
  • Expand post-release job placement and training programs. Incarcerated workers gain skills that are often transferable to full-time employment after their release. Beto will prioritize funding for apprenticeship programs like Youthbuild, a Department of Labor program that provides skills training for low-income young people who have left high school without a diploma, are exiting foster care, or have been justice-involved.
  • Support Individuals Impacted by the War on Drugs. Provide a monthly “Drug War Justice Grant” to those formerly incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offenses in state and federal prison for a period based on time served. The grants will be funded completely by the tax on the marijuana industry.
  • Reforming the parole system at the state and federal levels.
  • Reinstate a System of Federal Parole. The federal parole system was abolished following the passage of the Sentencing Reform Act in 1984, and has not been in use for any person incarcerated since November 1987. Replacing federal parole with supervised release has led to 12 percent longer sentences and has not proven to positively affect public safety. Reinstating a system of federal parole allows individuals to re-enter society and restart their lives instead of being forced to face prolonged incarceration.
  • Encourage States to Find Innovative Ways to Reduce Parole Lengths. States like Missouri and Arizona have adopted a policy of giving a parolee one day off their sentence for each day of good behavior. These programs reduce the risk of a parolee needlessly returning to prison and lowers their re-arrest rate as there is a clear incentive to positive behavior.
  • Provide States Funding for Implicit Bias Training Around Parole Decisions. Tie receipt of DOJ grants to mandatory implicit bias training for parole board members, parole officers, and risk-assessment administrators — mitigating the impact of racial bias, classism, and ableism in parole decisions.
  • Direct the Bureau of Prisons to Increase Data Collection On State Parole Systems. Increase transparency in the parole system by requiring data collection by the Bureau of Prisons around appointments to state parole boards; changes to parole requirements; the frequency of parole violations; and the number individuals returned to incarceration.
C. Guarantee full enfranchisement to 4.5 million formerly incarcerated individuals. In addition to supporting individuals transitioning out of incarceration, Beto will direct reforms to ensure formerly incarcerated individuals have their rights restored and maximize their chances of becoming contributing members of society by:

  • Restoring the right to vote, providing this right to all who have served their term of incarceration. Beto’s restoration of voting rights will not be subject to additional requirements — eliminating the barriers confronted by formerly incarcerated individuals in Florida.
  • Promoting automatic record expungement after certain types of justice-involved persons (nonviolent offenders) remain crime-free for a set period of time. People with criminal records who have remained crime-free for 4 to 7 years are no more likely than the general population to commit a new crime. Individuals with cleared records are 11% more likely to be employed and earn 22% higher wages one year after expungement.
  • Providing access to federal benefits. Those who have paid their debt to society should not be barred from receiving federal benefits to help themselves and their families. As President, Beto will champion the lifting of the felony drug ban for income and food assistance. While most states have already done so, access to these benefits must be available to all Americans. As many as 91% of individuals with a felony are food insecure upon release from prison, and studies have shown that recently released individuals with a felony record who have full access to welfare and food benefits are 10% less likely to return to prison within a year. Beto would also restore Pell Grant eligibility for those individuals with criminal records.
  • Ensuring fair housing by eliminating the “one strike, you’re out” policy that allows for those living in public housing to be evicted if they, or a guest, engage in certain types of criminal behavior. Instead, we must ensure fair chance housing, which limits unfair consideration of criminal records by private landlords.
  • Promoting “Ban the Box” to ensure a prior conviction does not block access to job prospects and student loan assistance.
  • Prohibiting the Automatic Suspension of Driver’s Licenses. While in Congress, Beto introduced the Better Drive Act, which would repeal a law that forced the Department of Transportation to withhold or reduce federal highway funding from states that did not automatically suspend the drivers licenses of individuals convicted of a drug-related offense.
D. Tackle police misconduct and racial bias. Excessive use of force by law enforcement has significant impact on communities across the country. Just last week, video was released of an officer shooting and killing an unarmed teenager in Fresno, California, who he had been questioning. Time and again, communities are left without justice. Beto will address these challenges by:

  • Directing and fully staffing the Department of Justice to demand police and prosecutorial accountability through federal civil rights enforcement, misconduct investigations, and support of community policing.
  • Limiting qualified immunity for law enforcement officials who are found to have violated an individual’s rights under the Constitution. The Civil Rights Act laid out protections for individuals from misconduct by government officials. Originally, the Supreme Court interpreted the law “to give a remedy to parties deprived of constitutional rights, privileges, and immunities by an official’s abuse of his position” but those protections have been stripped away through the doctrine of qualified immunity. Beto will amend federal law to ensure officer accountability for unnecessary use of force against individuals and for other civil rights violations. Such reform would also provide victims the opportunity to sue police departments that have hired officers with histories of misconduct.
  • Providing law enforcement agencies with training related to implicit bias, use of force, de-escalation, nonlethal interventions, and how to interact with people who have non-apparent disabilities, in addition to accurately reporting the gender of victims.
  • Embracing the recommendations of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing by tying federal funding for local law enforcement agencies with the implementation of anti-discrimination and anti-profiling policies.
  • Being vigilant about new mediums of bias, such as facial recognition technology algorithmic sentencing.
E. Meet the mental health needs of law enforcement. As a result of undeniably stressful workplace conditions, police officers and firefighters experience post-traumatic stress and depression at rates as much as five times the general population. Further, more police officers die by suicide than from shootings and traffic accidents combined. Beto will work to reduce the stigma around post-traumatic stress from these conditions by:

  • Providing law enforcement, first responders, and civilian staff with targeted mental health services. To ensure that those responsible for our public safety are able to best serve their communities, Beto will expand mental health services, including increased funding for annual mental health visits and expand local peer support programs for law enforcement, first responders, and civilian staff.
  • Expanding grant funding for programs designed to provide assessment and increase access to treatment and long-term recovery for alcohol and substance use disorders among law enforcement, as well as their immediate family members, and first responders.