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 than 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.
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.