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Election 2020 Updated 1:15 P.M. 12.03.2019

The Democrats on criminal justice

O’Rourke points to his own experiences getting arrested and then bailed out of jail in the 1990s.

Booker supports the right to vote for inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses.

Biden is alone among the candidates in opposing marijuana legalization.

Gabbard expressed concern that corrections officers could influence prisoners’ voting decisions.

Yang advocates mandatory minimums for white-collar crimes.

Sanders is the sole candidate arguing that all incarcerated people should be eligible to vote.

Klobuchar expresses concerns about “an open border policy.”

Steyer called the decision to resume federal executions a “huge misstep.”

In 2017, Harris co-sponsored a bill to incentivize states to end cash bail.

Castro was the first candidate to raise the issue of decriminalizing border crossings on a national stage.

Warren says Congress should “reduce or eliminate” mandatory minimums.

Buttigieg says losing the right to vote is “part of the punishment” of being incarcerated.

The candidates vying to challenge President Trump in November want to move their party left on bail reform, marijuana, immigration and more. Here’s where they stand.

Jump to an issue:

Do you support a federal standard for police use of force?

Yes
Wants Department of Justice investigations
Other policing recommendations
Position unclear

As senator, Booker introduced a bill that would mandate the reporting of police force resulting in serious injury or death.

O’Rourke’s plan would have “demand[ed] police and prosecutorial accountability through federal civil rights enforcement.”

Yang’s sole policing policy proposal is to equip every police officer in the nation with a body camera.”

Harris said she would “support a national standard for use of deadly force.”

Sanders proposes to set federal standards for police, but only for use of body cameras and storage of resulting footage.

Klobuchar supports “recommending de-escalation techniques to reduce the use of force.”

Gabbard has not publicly addressed police accountability or use of force.

Castro would would set “national standards for the conduct of police officers and local departments.”

Steyer has not publicly addressed police accountability or use of force.

Biden said his administration would “use its authority to root out unconstitutional or unlawful policing.”

Warren said her administration would “develop and apply evidence-based standards for the use of force for federal law enforcement.”

Buttigieg supports laws to raise “the legal standard under which officers are justified to use lethal force.”

10 candidates still in the running
2 candidates have withdrawn

There are some 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the nation, and their use of force policies vary widely. Research shows that “more restrictive use of force policies predict lower rates of deadly and less lethal force” by officers, making it a logical starting point for trying to reduce the number of people killed each year by police.

The president lacks the power to directly regulate state, county and local departments, however. Several candidates propose federal standards that would almost certainly come in the form of guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice or the FBI on best practices for use of force. This could push police departments to act in a few different ways, experts say. Some departments—likely a small minority—would proactively adopt these best practices on their own. Many more would be compelled by the threat of either civil lawsuits or of a federal “patterns and practices” investigation by the Department of Justice. In either case, claims that police are violating citizens’ civil rights could be bolstered if a department wasn’t following the federal recommendations.

Several candidates have proposed tying federal funding for law enforcement to the adoption of such use of force standards, either as a promise for additional funding or as a threat to withhold existing dollars.

Bringing back “patterns and practices” investigations, a staple of the Obama administration, is also a popular proposal. Those inquiries, in departments like Newark, Chicago, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, have led to consent decrees–or a series of policy changes agreed on by police departments and the Department of Justice, and enforced by federal judges.

See what each candidate has said about police use of force

Joe Biden

Biden said under his administration, the Justice Department “will again use its authority to root out unconstitutional or unlawful policing,” by employing the “pattern and practice” investigations commonly conducted under Obama but virtually abandoned under Trump.

Cory Booker

Booker has pledged to “improve the reporting of police use-of-force incidents” but has not addressed policing in a comprehensive way as a candidate. As a senator in 2015, he introduced a bill that would require states to report any police use of force resulting in serious injury or death to federal officials.

Pete Buttigieg

In a white paper, Buttigieg outlined plans to raise “the legal standard under which officers are justified to use lethal force,” noting that “many law enforcement agencies lack substantive guidance.” Buttigieg also proposes a federal review board “to help police agencies assess catastrophes, including violence and other misconduct, after they happen.”

Julián Castro

Castro said his administration would establish “national standards for the conduct of police officers and local departments that receive federal funding.” Those standards would “restrict the use of deadly force unless there is an imminent threat to the life of another person.”

Tulsi Gabbard

Gabbard has not publicly addressed police accountability or use of force.

Amy Klobuchar

Klobuchar’s campaign told the Marshall Project that the Senator “supports recommending de-escalation techniques to reduce the use of force” and will work to ensure departments properly investigate use of force,” but the response included no specific policy proposals.

Bernie Sanders

Sanders said he would “revitalize the use of Department of Justice investigations, consent decrees, and federal lawsuits to address systemic constitutional violations by police departments.” Sanders also said he would mandate a federal investigation “whenever someone is killed in police custody”—or more than 1,000 investigations a year, which would be unprecedented and, some experts told the Marshall Project, unrealistic. During the Obama administration such investigations numbered in the single digits annually. Sanders also proposes federal standards for police, but only for the use of body cameras and the storage of the resulting footage.

Tom Steyer

Steyer has not publicly addressed police accountability or use of force besides pledging to “promote better-policing methods and training to reduce police brutality.”

Elizabeth Warren

Warren cited research that suggests “when cities employ more restrictive policies for police use of force, they improve both community trust and officer safety.” She said her administration would “develop and apply evidence-based standards for the use of force for federal law enforcement, incorporating proven approaches and strategies like de-escalation, verbal warning requirements, and the use of non-lethal alternatives.”

Andrew Yang

Yang has not publicly addressed police accountability or use of force besides outlining a plan to equip every police officer in the nation with a body camera.

Candidates no longer in the race

Kamala Harris

Harris said as president she would “support a national standard for use of deadly force limited to only when ‘necessary’ and when no reasonable alternatives are available.” She was also the first candidate to propose a federal review board that would investigate police shootings similar to the way the government currently investigates air crashes.

Beto O'Rourke

Before dropping out of the race, O’Rourke proposed directing the Department of Justice to “demand police and prosecutorial accountability through federal civil rights enforcement, misconduct investigations, and support of community policing.”

Do you support ending the federal use of private prisons?

Yes, and pressure states to do the same
Yes
Position unclear

Biden would “end the federal government’s use of private prisons.”

Steyer would end private prisons and apologized for his hedge fund having invested in them.

Warren would end federal contracts for private detention and withhold funding from states unless they do the same.

O’Rourke says “no one should get rich locking other people up.”

Booker says “attaching a profit motive to imprisonment undermines the cause of justice and fairness.”

Yang would “end the use of for-profit, private prisons” for federal inmates.

Sanders says as president he would “ban for-profit prisons.”

Harris calls for ending private prisons, as well as private detention centers for undocumented immigrants.

Klobuchar would “phase out the use of private prisons” in her first 100 days.

Buttigieg wants to “abolish private federal prisons.”

Gabbard calls private prisons “monuments to hypocrisy” and says they should be abolished.

Castro wants to eliminate “the for-profit immigration detention and prison industry.”

10 candidates still in the running
2 candidates have withdrawn

Every Democratic candidate has expressed at least moral opposition to private prisons, if not a clear policy goal for their abolition.

Administratively, the president wields a fair amount of power on this issue. Private companies only hold 8 percent of people incarcerated in the U.S., but have 15 percent of federal prisoners and more than 70 percent of immigration detainees. An incoming president could direct the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security not to contract with private detention companies. The Obama administration did this (to limited effect) in 2016 for federal prisons, and a DHS advisory council recommended to do the same for immigration detention later that year. The election of Donald Trump rapidly reversed that momentum, in a massive financial boon for the industry.

As a practical matter though, phasing out private prisons is a lot harder than writing a memo to cabinet secretaries, if it isn’t accompanied by an aggressive plan for decarceration. The private prison industry began in the early 1980s amid a rapid rise in incarceration, because the government didn’t have enough space in public facilities. That remains the case, and experts say a multi-billion dollar government buy-out of private facilities is highly improbable. This is especially true for immigration detention, where the industry makes up most of the government’s capacity (local jails handle almost all of the rest).

Banning or abolishing private prisons doesn’t fully remove the profit motive from the business of incarceration, which most candidates have described as morally wrong. Weeding private companies out from contracts in prison healthcare, food, transportation, financial services, messaging, phone and video calls, would be substantially more difficult. Private corrections companies are also diversifying with investments in reentry, electronic monitoring and drug treatment programs.

See what each candidate has said about private prisons

Joe Biden

Biden said he would restore a 2016 Obama policy, since rescinded by Trump, aimed at phasing out the federal use of private prisons. Biden would also “make eliminating private prisons and all other methods of profiteering off of incarceration” a requirement for receiving funds from a proposed grant program for state and local jurisdictions.

Cory Booker

Booker has long been a vocal critic of private prisons, but has not expressed a policy goal as a presidential candidate. He did sharply criticize the Trump administration’s decision to undo an Obama directive reducing their use, calling it “a major setback to restoring justice to our criminal justice system.” The senator continued, “Attaching a profit motive to imprisonment undermines the cause of justice and fairness.”

Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg has said he would “abolish private federal prisons and significantly reduce the use of private contractors by incentivizing states to stop their services in areas such as health care, food services, communications, diversion, and supervision.”

Julián Castro

Castro has called for the end of private prisons on moral grounds, arguing “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​.” He has pledged as president, to “close for-profit prisons and detention centers and end this exploitative system.”

Tulsi Gabbard

Gabbard proposed banning private prisons long before she announced her presidential run. In 2016, she authored a petition calling on Congress to end their use nationwide, and describing the facilities as “monuments to hypocrisy” in a 2017 tweet. She has pledged to ban them as president.

Amy Klobuchar

Senator Klobuchar said she would “phase out the use of private prisons” in her first 100 days as president “by directing the Department of Justice to decline to renew or reduce the scope of contracts when the contract reaches its end.”

Bernie Sanders

The senator said “we must end the practice of corporations profiting off the suffering of incarcerated people and their families” and pledged to “ban” private prisons.

Tom Steyer

Steyer said he would eliminate private prisons, an industry his hedge fund poured tens of millions into in 2005. He has since said he “deeply regret[s]” that investment and personally ordered that the stake be sold.

Elizabeth Warren

Senator Warren has argued there is “no place in America for profiting off putting more people behind bars or in detention.” She plans to end all federal contracts with private detention providers and said she would “extend these bans to states and localities by conditioning their receipt of federal public safety funding on their use of public facilities.”

Andrew Yang

The tech entrepreneur said that as president he would “end the use of for-profit, private prisons” for federal prisoners.

Candidates no longer in the race

Kamala Harris

Harris calls it “inhumane to profit off of imprisonment and allow a system that continues to create incentives that are contrary to the goal of helping people rehabilitate themselves and return to the community.” She said in a tweet that one of her “first acts of business as president will be to begin phasing out detention centers and private prisons.”

Beto O'Rourke

O’Rourke said he would eliminate “private, for-profit prisons,” in part because they have “been shown to produce disproportionately negative outcomes for people of color.” He said he would also “eliminate all funding for private, for-profit immigration prison operators.”

How would you reform the bail system?

Eliminate cash bail
Reduce use of cash bail

O’Rourke points to his own experiences getting arrested and then bailed out of jail in the 1990s.

Booker tweeted: “Cash bail doesn't work, it never has & it's time to end it.”

Biden called cash bail the “modern-day debtors’ prison.”

Steyer pushed for reforms in his home state of California and supports the end of cash bail.

Castro said he would “pass legislation eliminating cash bail.”

Klobuchar indicated support for eliminating cash bail but has not detailed any plans.

Sanders pledged to withhold funding from states that use cash bail systems.

Gabbard cited the cash bail system’s disproportionate impact on people of color and people living in poverty.

Yang calls for only using cash bail “when necessary.”

Buttigieg believes it is important that pretrial defendants are released on the “least restrictive conditions necessary, and for many that is cash bail.”

In 2017, Harris co-sponsored a bill to incentivize states to end cash bail.

Warren supports ending cash bail but hasn’t explained how she would achieve it.

10 candidates still in the running
2 candidates have withdrawn

Nearly all the Democratic candidates favor limiting or eliminating money bail, but the president has little power to influence the practice directly because bail is set locally. While the federal judicial system has all but abandoned bail, most states allow cash bail as the primary instrument of pretrial release for criminal defendants.

The president has the bully pulpit and could issue statements, convene White House events or assemble a task force to issue a report on the use of money bail. Otherwise, a president would be mostly limited to working with Congress to pass legislation like Bernie Sanders’ proposed “No Money Bail Act of 2018,” which would offer grants to states to adopt alternatives. The federal government could also withhold funding from jurisdictions that continue to use traditional cash bail.

Because commercial insurance companies underwrite the for-profit bail industry, some reformers believe the federal government could use its expansive powers over interstate commerce to essentially regulate the industry into extinction. No candidate has proposed this action so far.

See what each candidate has said about bail reform

Joe Biden

Calling cash bail the “modern-day debtors’ prison,” Biden has said he would “lead a national effort to end cash bail.”

Cory Booker

The senator tweeted, “Cash bail doesn't work, it never has & it's time to end it.” In a questionnaire returned to FiveThirtyEight, Booker’s campaign said he supported the end of cash ball at all levels of government.

Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg has pledged to enact bail reform that would ensure “bail is never set beyond an individual’s ability to pay” and supports “eliminating the for-profit bail industry.” He does not favor outright abolition of money bail, however, focusing on pretrial detention as the more immediate problem. “We have seen states like California eliminate cash bail but replace it with a system where even more people are detained outright, with no opportunity for release before trial,” his campaign told The Marshall Project.

Julián Castro

“Pretrial detention should always be the very last resort,” Castro wrote in a policy proposal. “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.”

Tulsi Gabbard

At a forum in New Hampshire Gabbard said, “We need to get rid of the cash bail system that is disproportionately impacting people of color and people living in poverty all across this country.”

Amy Klobuchar

Klobuchar has only publicly offered general support for reform of the cash bail system, without specifics. Klobuchar’s campaign indicated in a questionnaire returned to FiveThirtyEight that she supports the “end of cash bail at all levels of government.”

Bernie Sanders

Sanders is calling for an unqualified end to cash bail, pledging to withhold funding from states that continue to use cash bail systems. Sanders introduced the “No Money Bail Act of 2018” in the Senate—legislation that would have withheld funding for cash bail and provided funding for states to pursue alternatives.

Tom Steyer

The billionaire Californian railed aggressively for reforms in his home state and recently, in a tweet, called cash bail an “injustice perpetuated by greed and motivated by oppression.” His campaign said he supports “the end of cash bail.”

Elizabeth Warren

Warren supports ending cash bail, arguing, “We should allow people to return to their jobs and families while they wait for trial, reserving preventive detention only for those cases that pose a true flight or safety risk.” The Massachusetts senator does not say in her criminal justice platform how she would achieve this goal.

Andrew Yang

Yang shares most of his fellow candidates' reservations about cash bail but stops short of advocating an end to it. “We should be much more judicious in the use of cash bail, only employing it when necessary,” a statement on Yang’s website said.

Candidates no longer in the race

Kamala Harris

Harris’ criminal justice platform says: “End money bail. Our bail system is unjust and broken.” The senator in 2017 co-sponsored a bill to incentivize a move away from cash bail in state and local jurisdictions.

Beto O'Rourke

“Ending the cash bail system makes sense,” said O’Rourke at a campaign stop, citing his own experiences being arrested and bailed out of jail twice in the 1990s. “You cannot be too poor to have your freedom, and that is exactly what happens in the United States of America right now," O’Rourke said, points he later echoed in his criminal justice platform.

How would you use your clemency powers as president?

Automatic review for some non-violent offenders
Create independent clemency screening
Offer clemency, where appropriate
Position unclear

Steyer said he would “exercise his clemency powers where appropriate.”

Biden plans to “broadly use his clemency power for certain nonviolent and drug crimes.”

O’Rourke said he would “set the goal of reducing incarceration by at least 25,000.”

Booker would immediately consider clemency for more than 17,000 federal prisoners.

Yang would “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a low-level, nonviolent marijuana offense.”

Sanders said he plans to “revitalize the executive clemency process.”

Warren would “use the pardon and clemency powers broadly to right systemic injustices.”

Harris said she would “significantly increase use of clemency.”

Klobuchar wants to create a “diverse, bipartisan clemency advisory board.”

Buttigieg would commute sentences of people “who are incarcerated… beyond what justice warrants.”

Gabbard has not publicly commented on clemency.

Castro said clemency is the single biggest step the U.S. can take to immediately reduce the size of its prison population.

10 candidates still in the running
2 candidates have withdrawn

Clemency, which includes reversing criminal convictions (pardons) and shortening sentences (commutations), is the president’s most direct means to reduce incarceration. The action requires no approval from Congress and as a matter of law, nothing could stop a president from releasing all of the approximately 216,000 federal prisoners on day one.

For this reason, some experts say candidates’ clemency plans are a good barometer for their true commitment to criminal justice reform.

Historically, presidents have used clemency in limited and sometimes self-serving ways, pardoning friends and political allies, usually as they leave office to avoid political blowback. President Obama broadened this somewhat, offering clemency at a record-setting pace at the end of his second term to nonviolent drug offenders, but still barely made a dent in the federal prison population.

Several candidates propose reforming the capricious nature of clemency through a bipartisan commission that would identify candidates for release, taking the screening process away from the Department of Justice. The thinking here is that the same department that prosecuted these cases should not determine if the sentences are too severe. Some candidates have also proposed mass clemency, mainly for inmates convicted of nonviolent drug crimes.

Clemency powers are limited to federal prisoners, and a president cannot free a single person convicted under state or local laws. But the president could set a strong example, providing some political cover for governors seeking to follow the administration’s lead.

See what each candidate has said about clemency

Joe Biden

Biden has highlighted that the use of clemency while he was vice president was greater than the prior 10 administrations and vowed to continue in that spirit. He’s promised to “broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes.”

Cory Booker

Booker outlined an ambitious clemency plan that would consider some 17,000 to 20,000 federal prisoners for release in three categories: Those sentenced for marijuana possession, people with disproportionately long sentences for crack-cocaine and those who would have been released if reforms in the First Step Act had been retroactive. Release would not be immediate or guaranteed, however. Clemency recipients would first be evaluated to determine if they might pose a public safety risk.

Pete Buttigieg

The South Bend, Indiana, mayor said his administration would “commute the sentences of people who are incarcerated in the federal system beyond what justice warrants.” Buttigieg has pledged an “independent clemency commission” made up of people “with diverse professional backgrounds and lived experiences” that “will make the process more streamlined and comprehensive."

Julián Castro

Castro has said he would “establish an independent commission to review the cases” of some 17,000 non-violent offenders, “and make continuing recommendations to the President on clemency.” He called such a use of clemency powers “the single biggest step we can take to immediately reduce the unacceptable size of our prison population.”

Tulsi Gabbard

Gabbard has not publicly commented on the question of clemency.

Amy Klobuchar

In a CNN op-ed, Klobuchar said she would create a “diverse, bipartisan clemency advisory board, one that includes victim advocates as well as prison and sentencing reform advocates.” She would also create a criminal justice advisor separate from the Justice Department, because “although the voices of our prosecutors and law enforcement officials are important… there are additional voices that a president needs to hear.”

Bernie Sanders

The senator said he would “revitalize the executive clemency process by creating an independent clemency board removed from the Department of Justice and placed in [the] White House.”

Tom Steyer

The California businessman said as president he would “exercise his clemency powers where appropriate.”

Elizabeth Warren

Senator Warren said that she would “use the pardon and clemency powers broadly to right systemic injustices,” with a clemency board making recommendations directly to the White House. She would “direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished.”

Andrew Yang

Yang said that he would “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a low-level, nonviolent marijuana offense, and I would high five them on their way out of jail.”

Candidates no longer in the race

Kamala Harris

The senator said she would “significantly increase use of clemency” and that the Department of Justice should not make clemency decisions on cases it prosecuted. She’s proposing a “sentencing review unit” to consider early release for people who have served at least 10 years of sentences of 20 years or more.

Beto O'Rourke

O’Rourke said he would “set the goal of reducing incarceration by at least 25,000” during his first term via clemency, and establish a streamlined, uniform application for inmates seeking release. It’s unclear how this would differ from the current system. The former congressman said he would prioritize elderly people and those in poor health, people with disabilities and chronic illness, those in prison solely for drug possession, and people subject to extraordinarily long sentences.

Should people in prison have the right to vote while they are incarcerated?

Yes
Only nonviolent offenders
No, only once they have left prison
Position unclear

Sanders is the sole candidate arguing that all incarcerated people should be eligible to vote.

O’Rourke said violent criminals have “broken a bond and a compact” with their fellow Americans.

Booker supports the right to vote for inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses.

Yang says those convicted of murder should not be allowed to vote.

Steyer’s campaign said, “If you've done your time you should be able to vote.”

Harris said she’s still making up her mind on whether the incarcerated should be able to vote.

Castro says prisoners should be able to vote unless they are “violent felons.”

Biden wants incentives for states to restore voting rights to people who complete felony sentences.

Klobuchar said people should have voting rights restored after they complete their sentences.

Warren called for “more conversation” on prisoners’ voting but is “not there yet.”

Gabbard expressed concern that corrections officers could influence prisoners’ voting decisions.

Buttigieg says losing the right to vote is “part of the punishment” of being incarcerated.

10 candidates still in the running
2 candidates have withdrawn

No candidates have outlined in detail how they would restore voting rights for current inmates and the formerly incarcerated. Pete Buttigieg has come the closest by proposing that felon enfranchisement be part of a “21st Century Voting Rights Act.” Many in the field have expressed support for the “For The People Act,” which passed the House but not the Senate and would restore voting access to all those who have been convicted of a crime but are not currently in prison for a felony. The legislation would not change state laws, however, so states would be able to prevent those same citizens from voting in state and local elections.

A president could advocate for re-enfranchisement and commission studies or task forces to make recommendations to states. The president could also push Congress to use the budget to reward states for restoring voting rights to prisoners and the formerly incarcerated or to withhold funds from jurisdictions that continue the practice.

See what each candidate has said about voting rights for the incarcerated

Joe Biden

The former vice president said his administration would “incentivize states to automatically restore voting rights for individuals convicted of felonies once they have served their sentences.”

Cory Booker

Booker has said he believes people in prison for “serious felonies” should “surrender their right to vote,” but that those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses should be granted the franchise. Booker is a co-sponsor of the pending “For the People Act,” which would guarantee the right of convicted people to vote in federal elections after their release.

Pete Buttigieg

"Part of the punishment when you're convicted of a crime and you're incarcerated is you lose certain rights, you lose your freedom,” said Buttigieg at a town hall. The South Bend mayor supports the full, immediate and free restoration of rights after prisoners are released.

Julián Castro

Castro has said that he thinks prisoners ought to have the right to vote, since they're counted in the census, but he made a broad exception for “people who are violent felons." His campaign told The Washington Post he supports the restoration of rights for the formerly incarcerated.

Tulsi Gabbard

Gabbard told MSNBC that she opposed restoring voting rights to current inmates in part because she thought there would be a potential for corrections officers to exert influence over prisoners’ voting decisions. A Gabbard staffer told HuffPost that this includes those who are on parole.

Amy Klobuchar

The Minnesota senator told HuffPost that she supports “what they did in Florida, which is when [people] get out they get to vote.” Klobuchar is a co-sponsor of the “For the People Act.”

Bernie Sanders

Sanders is an outlier, arguing that all incarcerated people should be eligible to vote. He calls it a “slippery slope” to try and distinguish among types of convictions regarding voting rights. “You’re paying a price, you committed a crime, you’re in jail. That’s bad. But you’re still living in American society, and you have a right to vote,” Sanders said. His state—Vermont—and Maine are the only ones where everyone in prison can vote.

Tom Steyer

Steyer’s campaign told The Marshall Project that he “supports restoring voting rights to former convicts” and believes “if you've done your time you should be able to vote.” He does not support providing the vote to those currently incarcerated.

Elizabeth Warren

Warren said she supports a constitutional right to vote but is “not there yet” on giving the vote to prisoners, according to the Associated Press. She has said that there should be “more conversation” on the question.

Andrew Yang

Yang has said he believes that “committing a crime should not mean you are a noncitizen and cannot vote.” His sole exception is for those convicted of murder. “The threshold I have come up with is that if you have deprived someone else of their right to vote, then you should not have the right to vote," Yang said during an INSIDER town hall.

Candidates no longer in the race

Kamala Harris

As of late May 2019, Harris was still making up her mind on this question. "I'm going to think about it, and I'm going to talk to experts, and I'm gonna make a decision, and I'll let you know,” Harris said, adding that her primary concern was restoring the franchise for the formerly incarcerated. In the Senate, Harris joined with Kirsten Gillibrand and Sanders to introduce the Voter Empowerment Act, which would do exactly that. Her campaign did not respond to a request for clarification on her position.

Beto O'Rourke

O’Rourke said that violent criminals have “broken a bond and a compact” with their fellow Americans and defended the loss of the franchise as a consequence, but said the country should “rethink” the question for nonviolent offenders “and allow everyone, or as many [as] possible, to participate in our democracy.” His criminal justice plan states that “restoration of voting rights will not be subject to additional requirements.”

Should marijuana be legalized nationwide?

Legalize marijuana
Decriminalize marijuana

Yang proposes expunging convictions for marijuana use and possession.

As a senator, Booker pushed for legalization.

O’Rourke favored legalizing marijuana as early as 2009.

Castro expressed his support for legalization in a tweet.

Gabbard expressed her support for legalization on Facebook.

Harris proposes incentives for states to legalize marijuana.

Sanders says he would legalize marijuana by executive order.

Steyer told The Marshall Project he supports legalization.

Klobuchar supports states determining their own approach to marijuana.

Warren co-sponsored Booker’s bill to federally legalize marijuana.

Buttigieg plans to “legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions.”

Biden is alone among the candidates in opposing legalization.

10 candidates still in the running
2 candidates have withdrawn

More than half the U.S. population now lives in states where possession of marijuana has been decriminalized, meaning people won’t face criminal prosecution for simple possession of the drug. In addition, more than a quarter of Americans live in states where there is a legal recreational cannabis industry. The federal government does not strictly have the power to “legalize” cannabis, which is still subject to state criminal laws. But Congress and to a lesser degree the president can nudge states towards legalization by making it a condition for getting some federal funding.

A new president could move to downgrade cannabis’s designation as a Schedule One controlled substance, even without Congress. That would probably need to start with a Department of Justice request for a review of the scientific literature on the drug, involving agencies like Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Agency. A congressional bill, like the recently proposed MORE Act, could accomplish the feat much faster.

The attorney general could effectively decriminalize cannabis at a federal level by simply directing U.S. attorneys not to pursue some cases, as former Attorney General Eric Holder did in 2013 after some states passed legalization referendums. The DEA and FBI, at the president’s direction, could choose not to conduct cannabis-related investigations or arrests.

See what each candidate has said about marijuana

Joe Biden

Biden is the lone Democratic candidate who has not spoken in support of legal marijuana. He has called for decriminalizing marijuana and expunging prior records for possession of the drug, though in one debate he said that marijuana possession should be charged as a misdemeanor.

Cory Booker

Booker has pushed for marijuana legalization in the Senate since 2017. Most recently, he introduced a bill to legalize marijuana, expunge marijuana convictions and create a fund for communities most affected by the War on Drugs.

Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg’s criminal justice plan calls for legalizing marijuana on a federal level and expunging past convictions.

Julián Castro

Castro tweeted in April, “Legalize it. Then expunge the records of folks who are in prison for marijuana use.”

Tulsi Gabbard

“As president I’ll end the failed war on drugs, legalize marijuana, end cash bail, and ban private prisons and bring about real criminal justice reform,” the Hawaii congresswoman said on Facebook in July.

Amy Klobuchar

Although Klobuchar told The Washington Post she supports legalizing marijuana, she also said states should “determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders.” She’s the only sitting senator among the Democratic candidates who has not signed on to Booker’s 2019 bill for federal legalization.

Bernie Sanders

Sanders called for federal legalization of marijuana in his 2016 campaign for the Democratic nomination. In August, he told Newsweek that he would legalize marijuana by executive order. He also calls for the expungement of prior marijuana convictions.

Tom Steyer

Steyer told The Marshall Project he supports legalization.

Elizabeth Warren

Warren’s criminal justice plan calls for legalizing marijuana and expunging prior convictions. She co-sponsored Booker’s 2019 bill to legalize marijuana federally.

Andrew Yang

Yang supports legalizing marijuana at the federal level and expunging convictions for both marijuana use and possession.

Candidates no longer in the race

Kamala Harris

Harris’ plan calls for legalizing marijuana at the federal level while also providing incentives for states to legalize the drug. The plan also calls for expungement and resentencing of marijuana convictions. Harris co-sponsored Booker’s 2019 bill to federally legalize marijuana.

Beto O'Rourke

O’Rourke argued in favor of legalizing marijuana as early as 2009, when he was a member of the El Paso City Council. His criminal justice plan calls for legalizing marijuana and expunging records for possession of the drug.

Should sentencing include mandatory minimums?

Eliminate mandatory minimums
Reduce mandatory minimums

Sanders also supports ending three-strikes sentencing laws.

Harris wants to end federal mandatory minimums and “incentivize states to do the same.”

Steyer wants to end mandatory minimums.

O’Rourke had previously proposed ending mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses only.

Booker wants to end mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses.

Yang advocates mandatory minimums for white-collar crimes.

Gabbard supported the 2015 Sentencing Reform Act, which reduced mandatory minimums for some drug offenses.

Warren says Congress should “reduce or eliminate” mandatory minimums.

Klobuchar proposes “giving prosecutors and judges more discretion in sentencing,” but hasn’t specified how much.

Biden proposes grants for states that end mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes.

Buttigieg proposed eliminating mandatory minimums.

Castro pledged to eliminate mandatory minimums.

10 candidates still in the running
2 candidates have withdrawn

When he signed the 2018 First Step Act, Donald Trump made marginal reductions to federal mandatory minimums; a new president could become a vocal supporter of legislation to pare back draconian federal sentencing even further. Some advocates are pushing for “Second Look” legislation to give all prisoners the right to have their sentencing re-evaluated after a number of years, no matter their crime. Cory Booker introduced a Senate version of this legislation earlier this year.

Most immediately, a new administration could, through its attorney general, reverse the 2017 Jeff Sessions memo that requires federal prosecutors to seek the most severe possible penalties. By contrast, under President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder ordered federal prosecutors in 2013 to exercise restraint in charging to limit the number of people facing harsh mandatory minimum sentences.

Outside of the federal criminal justice system, which accounts for about 10 percent of the nation’s incarcerated population, the president has far less authority. The most detailed plan for reducing the use of mandatory minimums in states comes from Joe Biden, who has proposed a $20 billion grant program for states to pursue progressive reforms, contingent on the repeal of their own mandatory minimum statutes.

See what each candidate has said about mandatory minimums

Joe Biden

Biden champions the swift passage of the “SAFE Justice Act,” which would pare back federal mandatory minimums. He is also proposing a federal grant program that would only be available to states that eliminate mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes.

Cory Booker

Booker has proposed ending “harsh mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses.” In the Senate, Booker introduced “Second Look” legislation, which would allow anyone who has served at least 10 years in federal prison to request resentencing. That bill would also grant inmates 50 or older the “presumption of release” if they petition.

Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg proposed the elimination of mandatory minimums in his Frederick Douglass plan—a collection of policy proposals aimed at black Americans. In a criminal justice proposal released several months later, the South Bend mayor said he would also “direct the U.S. sentencing commission to explore sentencing caps,” presumably to lower maximum allowable sentences.

Julián Castro

Castro said “three strikes laws and mandatory minimums are a major driver of mass incarceration,” adding, “As president, I would repeal the 1994 Crime Bill’s mandatory minimums and three strikes laws, and encourage State efforts to do the same.”

Tulsi Gabbard

At a forum in New Hampshire, Gabbard said, “The next step towards [criminal justice reform] is sentencing reform” and committed to reducing mass incarceration by 50 percent, but has not outlined a policy proposal. In 2015, Gabbard supported the Sentencing Reform Act, which “reduces certain mandatory minimums for drug offenders and allows judges greater discretion in determining appropriate sentences.”

Amy Klobuchar

Klobuchar, a former district attorney, has proposed “giving prosecutors and judges more discretion in sentencing,” but has not specified how much. She has also championed her support as a senator for the First Step Act, which allows judges to impose sentences below mandatory minimums—but only for certain nonviolent, low-level drug offenders who cooperate with the government.

Bernie Sanders

Sanders pledges in his criminal justice platform to end mandatory sentencing minimums, along with truth-in-sentencing laws, which specify that a minimum percentage of an inmate’s sentence must be served before they become eligible for early release. Sanders has also offered support for eliminating three-strikes laws, which impose mandatory life sentences on certain repeat offenders, and for “Second Look” legislation, which allows prisoners to petition federal courts for a review of lengthy sentences. Sanders’ plan does not outline a way to get states to reduce the use of mandatory minimums or related statutes.

Tom Steyer

Steyer’s campaign told The Marshall Project that he “wants to end mandatory minimum sentences, but does not support weaker penalties for criminals who have been convicted of sexual or violent offenses.”

Elizabeth Warren

Warren says Congress should “reduce or eliminate” mandatory minimums. Warren, like several of the candidates, also said she would assemble a federal clemency board that would, among other things, recommend release for inmates serving time on “mandatory minimums that should be abolished.”

Andrew Yang

Yang has described mandatory minimums as a “misguided policy decision” and said as president his administration would “review the current mandatory minimum laws to bring them in line with what data shows us is effective.” He does advocate mandatory minimums for white-collar crimes.

Candidates no longer in the race

Kamala Harris

Harris, a former district attorney, said she wants to end federal mandatory minimums and “incentivize states to do the same.” As a senator, Harris co-sponsored a bill that would allow federal judges to issue sentences below statutory minimums.

Beto O'Rourke

O’Rourke said he would “eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing.” Previously he had proposed ending the use of mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug offenses only.

Do you support the death penalty?

Eliminate the death penalty

O’Rourke once supported legislation “making it easier to execute a defendant if they attacked law enforcement.”

Booker says he’s opposed the death penalty since childhood.

Biden’s recent opposition to the death penalty is a departure from his long history of support.

Harris called the death penalty “immoral, discriminatory, ineffective, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars.”

Klobuchar says her opposition to the death penalty dates back to her time as a prosecutor in Minnesota.

Gabbard tweeted, “Executing even one prisoner in error is too great a risk.”

Castro called the death penalty “wrong” after the exoneration of an 81-year-old death row inmate.

Sanders has opposed the death penalty throughout his political career.

Yang says the U.S. has made “tragic errors” in its use of the death penalty.

Warren cites studies that indicate capital punishment can be biased against people of color and people with mental illness.

Steyer called the decision to resume federal executions a “huge misstep.”

Buttigieg says capital punishment in the U.S. “has always been a discriminatory practice.”

10 candidates still in the running
2 candidates have withdrawn

Democratic candidates appear to be in lockstep, unequivocal opposition to the death penalty. If any of them become president, they would have at least one powerful tool available right away: rescinding Attorney General William Barr’s recent directive that the Bureau of Prisons begin scheduling executions of federal prisoners after a 16-year virtual moratorium.

The president could also work with Congress to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level. After that, the president would have to rely on the power of the purse, prodding Congress to incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example.

Since the Supreme Court ruled capital punishment unconstitutional once before (in 1972, before reversing itself in 1976), it’s possible that a president could, through judicial nominations, set the stage for a future court to declare the practice unconstitutional once again.

See what each candidate has said about the death penalty

Joe Biden

Citing the more than 150 death row exonorees over the past 45 years, Biden said he will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example. It is a radical departure from a long history of explicit support.

Cory Booker

“This is something I have been writing reports about since I was a kid in grade school,” Booker told The New York Times. “I just do not believe in the death penalty.”

Pete Buttigieg

“Capital punishment as seen in America has always been a discriminatory practice, and we would be a fairer and safer country when we join the ranks of modern nations who have abolished the death penalty,” Buttigieg said at a National Action Network event this spring. He supports a constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty.

Julián Castro

“We should abolish the death penalty. It is wrong,” Castro tweeted this summer, in response to the exoneration of an 81-year-old man on death row.

Tulsi Gabbard

“Executing even one prisoner in error is too great a risk. We must end the death penalty now. As President I will work for comprehensive criminal justice reform including abolishing the federal death penalty,” Gabbard said on Twitter.

Amy Klobuchar

“I oppose the death penalty, and I have long held that view. I held that view when I was the chief prosecutor for Minnesota’s largest county,” the senator told The New York Times. Minnesota abolished the death penalty in 1911.

Bernie Sanders

Has opposed the death penalty throughout his political career. From his criminal justice platform: “As president, Bernie will abolish the death penalty.”

Tom Steyer

Steyer called Attorney General William Barr’s decision to resume federal executions misguided and a “huge misstep.” In 2016, he threw his support behind a failed ballot measure that would have repealed the death penalty in his home state of California.

Elizabeth Warren

From her criminal justice platform: “Studies show that capital punishment is often applied in a manner biased against people of color and those with a mental illness. I oppose the death penalty.”

Andrew Yang

“I oppose the death penalty,” Yang told The New York Times. “We’ve made tragic errors in our past and likely will continue to do so.”

Candidates no longer in the race

Kamala Harris

Harris “believes the death penalty is immoral, discriminatory, ineffective, and a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars,” according to her criminal justice platform.

Beto O'Rourke

“On moral grounds, I oppose the death penalty,” O’Rourke told an Iowa radio station. He said as president he would abolish the federal death penalty “which in practice is discriminatory and cruel.” The former congressman had previously supported federal legislation “making it easier to execute a defendant if they attacked law enforcement.”

Do you support decriminalizing illegal border crossings?

Decriminalize all border crossings
Decriminalize, with exceptions
Do not decriminalize border crossings
Position unclear

Sanders supports the abolition of criminal "improper entry," saying other laws address potential security threats.

Castro was the first candidate to raise the issue of decriminalization on a national stage.

O’Rourke opposes decriminalization based on concerns about human trafficking and drug trafficking.

Steyer told The New York Times that he supports decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings.

Harris said, “We’re not going to treat people who are undocumented [and] cross the borders as criminals.”

Warren calls the criminal provision “totally unnecessary for border security.”

Booker describes treating immigrants as criminals as inefficient and inhumane.

Yang supports criminal prosecution in cases involving human trafficking and repeat offenders.

Buttigieg believes cases involving fraud should be considered criminal offenses.

Biden has said, “I think people should have to get in line.”

Klobuchar expresses concerns about “an open border policy.”

Gabbard has not publicly taken a stance on decriminalization but has expressed concerns about “open borders.”

10 candidates still in the running
2 candidates have withdrawn

Questions remain about just how much of a difference decriminalizing border crossings would make, because the vast majority of deportations happen as a matter of civil rather than criminal proceedings. Even under the Trump administration—the most punitive towards immigration violations in recent memory—less than one-third of border apprehensions led to criminal prosecutions.

But in the broad sense, immigration is one of the few law enforcement arenas that is almost totally a federal function and where a future presidential administration could act quickly and authoritatively. An incoming president could virtually remake the entire system by appointing leaders, specifically at the Department of Homeland Security, with a progressive mindset toward enforcing or not enforcing certain aspects of immigration law.

Truly decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings as a matter of federal law would require congressional action. But the president can always promise to use his or her influence to push Congress to pass certain bills. Decriminalization advocates believe that repealing the statutes is a priority, no matter how the next president executes immigration law, because as long as they are on the books a future administration could use them to supercharge family separation and other enforcement provisions.

See what each candidate has said about immigration

Joe Biden

Biden does not support decriminalization. “I think people should have to get in line, but if people are coming because they’re actually seeking asylum, they should have a chance to make their case,” he told CNN.

Cory Booker

“There’s nothing criminal about seeking a better life for your family. I've said it before, and I'll say it again now—we have to do the right thing and decriminalize border crossing,” Booker said on Twitter this summer. His immigration proposal says that treating immigrants as criminals is both inefficient and inhumane.

Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg believes unauthorized border crossing should be decriminalized in most cases. "If fraud is involved, then that's suitable for the criminal statute. If it's not, it should be handled under civil law," he said.

Julián Castro

Castro was the first candidate to raise the issue of decriminalization on a national stage. His immigration platform calls for repealing the law that criminalizes “improper entry,” noting that the provision has allowed for “the large scale detention of tens of thousands of families, and has deterred migrants from turning themselves in to an immigration official within our borders.”

Tulsi Gabbard

Gabbard said, "That's something that I'm looking at," during a visit to ABC's “The View,” but expressed concerns that "decriminalizing could lead to ‘open borders.’ We need safe, secure borders in this country.”

Amy Klobuchar

Klobuchar has opposed decriminalizing unauthorized border crossing. “We don't want to have an open border policy and have no criminal penalties for crossing into the United States without proper documentation,” Klobuchar told MSNBC.

Bernie Sanders

Sanders' campaign told The Marshall Project on Oct. 15 that he believes in a full dismantling of the improper entry statutes because "no human being is illegal, and we should not treat families who travel thousands of miles to escape violence and misery as criminals." Sanders has said that he would want to reserve criminal prosecution for "security threats and extenuating circumstances," but that any such prosecutions would occur "under other applicable criminal charges."

Tom Steyer

Steyer told The New York Times in an interview that he supports decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings.

Elizabeth Warren

According to her immigration plan: The criminal provision “is totally unnecessary for border security” and should be repealed. Warren says that “as president, I will immediately issue guidance to end criminal prosecutions for simple administrative immigration violations.”

Andrew Yang

“I would be for criminalizing those who make a business of trafficking people in, or repeat offenders or those who enter after deportation proceedings or conviction of a crime,” Yang told The Washington Post. “But individuals or families who cross the border should be treated as civil offenders.”

Candidates no longer in the race

Kamala Harris

“I am in favor of saying that we’re not going to treat people who are undocumented [and] cross the borders as criminals, that is correct,” Harris said during an appearance on “The View.”

Beto O'Rourke

O’Rourke does not believe the criminal statute should be repealed, arguing during one debate: “If somebody is attempting to smuggle human beings… if they are attempting to cross illegal drugs into this country, I want to make sure that we have the legal mechanism necessary to… to detain them to make sure they do not pose a threat to this country or to our communities.”

Reporting by Katie Park and Jamiles Lartey

Additional reporting by Mia Armstrong, Jack Brook, Chiara Eisner, Weihua Li and Margo Snipe

Development and graphics by Katie Park

Design by Katie Park and Alex Tatusian

Photo editing by Katie Park and Celina Fang

Photos Darren Hauck, Ben Margot, Wilfredo Lee, Paul Sancya/Associated Press; Mike Segar/Reuters, via Newscom

This piece was originally published on Oct. 10, 2019.