Biden at next debate will go on offense with criminal justice plan, adviser says

By Bo Erickson

/ CBS News

A senior adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden told CBS News the public can anticipate the 2020 Democratic hopeful to advocate for it on the debate stage next week. Hours earlier on Tuesday, Biden released a widespread criminal justice plan aimed at reducing mass incarceration and reforming policing.

Senior campaign adviser Symone Sanders said in an interview with CBS News that "you can definitely expect him to talk about it" when he appears on the second night of the second Democratic debate on July 31.

After releasing his plan, a handful of Biden's 2020 Democratic rivals jabbed at the former vice president's long history with crime legislation. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey tweeted, "It's not enough to tell us what you're going to do for our communities, show us what you've done for the last 40 years."

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"We're not responding to that," Sanders said when asked about Booker's criticism, as she said Biden's plan is "focused on the future."

Inimai Chettiar, policy director at the Justice Action Network, said in an interview with CBS News that she thinks it will be important for the candidates at the next debate to address their proposals to end mass incarceration. Chettiar noted the full Democratic field now embraces a "political shift of let's reduce prisoner populations versus increase them."

Sanders shot down the idea that this released plan is aimed at undoing certain parts of the 1994 crime bill, which was spearheaded by Biden, then a senator from Delaware.

"This is a comprehensive plan, this is not about 'undoing' something from 1994 – this is about building on all of the progress we have made," she added.

Accompanying the ten-page plan released today, the campaign released a video to CBS News of Sanders spotlighting elements of the plan.

Here's The Deal: Joe Biden's Plan to Strengthen America's Criminal Justice System by Joe Biden on YouTube

"Look, too many people in this country are incarcerated—and too many of them are black and brown," Sanders said at the beginning of the video.

One element of the '90s-era crime bill that Biden's campaign is embracing is his lead on the initial version of the Violence Against Women Act, noted by Sanders in the new video.

"There are still too many women and girls, and members of the trans community, who are victims of gender-based violence," Sanders said. She emphasized Biden's plan will focus on "impacts of trauma."

In addition to his legislative history, Biden brings a legal background to the issue.

At the last debate, Biden specifically noted in his response to criticism from Sen. Kamala Harris that he chose to be a public defender in his career and not a prosecutor, as Harris did. Sanders emphasized this distinction as important as it's the "lens" that he views his criminal justice work.

A total cost of the plan is not laid out beyond the $20 billion dollars in a program available for states and local governments to reduce incarceration and $1 billion directed at improving juvenile criminal justice reform. A Biden campaign official said further the other initiatives would be paid for by decreasing mass incarceration in the country, which costs around $100 a day per person, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

If elected and if some of these reform plans are fully implemented, the release of once-incarcerated Americans will bring attention to their voting rights. Biden hopes to re-enfranchise "individuals convicted of felonies once they have served their sentences" and aims to afford them additional opportunities like housing and education for a more holistic transition back into society.

First published on July 23, 2019 / 11:20 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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