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Transforming the Criminal Justice System

A Fair and Just Criminal Justice System for All

America’s criminal justice system is defined by mass incarceration, punishment, and profiteering rather than prevention and rehabilitation. This approach has torn apart too many families and communities. The current system preys on poor people, perpetuates rampant racism, and costs billions in taxpayer dollars every year that could be better invested in the American people.

It is time to transform our broken criminal justice system into one of restorative justice. As president, Tom will invest in our youth, end cash bail and the war on drugs, decriminalize marijuana and stop profiteering by the prison-industrial complex. He will work to reform our punitive criminal justice system into one that exemplifies our values of fairness, equality, opportunity, and second chances.

“It is a harsh reality in America that our justice system is so broken.”
─ Tom Steyer

Reduce the number of young people entering the system

It starts when we label kids — and particularly kids of color — as “bad,” rather than addressing the underlying issues that may lead to criminal behavior. As president, Tom will invest in the youth of America and work to implement progressive reforms of the juvenile justice system. Tom will create a Bureau of Juvenile Justice to tackle the school-to-prison pipeline and provide $600 million in funding to states for counseling, diversion, and rehabilitation programs. He will establish a minimum age of 12 for young people to be adjudicated in juvenile court, stop jailing kids for skipping school, stop locking kids up in adult facilities, end youth solitary confinement, and ensure that youth in detention have access to the mental health services they need.

Build the relationship between police and the communities they serve

For many people in this country, particularly communities of color, an encounter with the police could be dangerous and potentially fatal. Tom will work with communities and law enforcement to reform policing so everyone feels safe in their community. He will require bias prevention training for officers, ban facial recognition technology in policing, end the 1033 program that provides military weaponry to local police, support local citizen advisory boards, and invest $500 million in community policing and accountability. As part of his wider program to improve mental health care in America, Tom will establish a presidential task force to build partnerships between police and mental health professionals to help divert individuals experiencing a mental health crisis into treatment, not detention.

Bring fairness to the courts and end racial bias

Tom will rebuild the Department of Justice so that it again exemplifies and enforces the highest standard of law enforcement, prosecution, and civil rights. He will direct the DOJ state grant resources towards public safety, civil rights enforcement efforts, and reducing mass incarceration. For everyone to have equal access to justice in court, Tom will reform incentives for federal prosecutors by directing attorneys to pursue criminal justice and public safety goals simultaneously, and invest $100 million in public defender offices. To establish a fair playing field for low-income defendants, Tom’s administration will eliminate court fees, reduce fines, and expand specialized drug, mental health, domestic violence, and veterans courts to better address root causes underlying certain crimes.

End cash bail

Tom fought alongside advocates to end cash bail in his home state of California in 2018. In doing so, they took on the powerful bail bond industry, which brought in more than $3 billion in revenue nationally last year. Tom believes that it is absolutely necessary to end cash bail nationwide. With Tom as president, cash bail will end in all 50 states, and additional federal funding will be directed to states to establish non-discriminatory alternatives.

End the war on drugs

Incarceration is not the answer to addiction, and low-level drug offenses should not carry a severe sentence. Tom will legalize marijuana, let states pass their own policies, expunge past records, and direct the federal government to open banking services to the marijuana industry. Tom’s administration will end the disparity between crack and cocaine sentences, decriminalize opioid possession, and invest $75 billion to address the opioid crisis.

Reform sentencing and eliminate the death penalty

Tom has supported bills in his home state of California that make sentencing policies fairer, and he will continue this fight as president. A Steyer administration will eliminate mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes and will advocate a partial repeal of the 1994 Crime Bill, including the three-strikes rule and grant programs that incentivize incarceration. He will direct the Sentencing Commission to update guidelines to reflect the latest studies and will design fairer risk assessment standards. He will also restructure immigration enforcement to lower the population of immigrants in detention.

Tom believes it is a moral, practical, and long overdue imperative to end the death penalty. To ensure these reforms are reflected for those currently in prison, Tom will expand executive clemency and opportunities for parole review for fully rehabilitated inmates.

Improve prison conditions

If the prison population were to gather in one place, they would form the 5th largest city in America, with 2.3 million people. It’s imperative that we improve prison conditions, stop the revolving door of recidivism, and fundamentally change our approach in how we treat people in prison. Tom will prioritize both safety and rehabilitation, especially for women, LGBTQ+ individuals, tribal members, and those with disabilities. Prisons must do better to provide educational opportunities, connectivity to family, and important social, counseling, and health services. Tom will abolish private prisons, reign in contractors preying on incarcerated individuals, and provide opportunities for rehabilitation for individuals in prison.

Support individuals returning to society

When formerly incarcerated individuals return to society, many face housing and work discrimination, economic stress, and mental health issues. As president, Tom will invest in reentry through the Second Chance Act Grant Program, improve workplace opportunities by banning the box, provide $100 million in Department of Labor reentry employment opportunity grants, and institute washout periods for non-violent offenders job applicants. Tom will also restore the right to vote for all formerly incarcerated individuals and will direct the census to count prisoners at their home address rather than in the district in which they are incarcerated.


Read Tom’s full plan to reform the Criminal Justice System.