Biden’s policies on social and criminal justice

The president-elect has said little publicly about his plans for criminal justice reform, but the expectations are high. Americans are looking to him to heal a deeply divided nation split along lines of race, politics and class.

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(Photos by Joshua Lott, Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist,and Montinique Monroe for The Washington Post)

President-elect Joe Biden has said his priority upon taking office as the 46th president will be to “heal” and “unify” the nation. He has said little about how he plans to go about the task, beyond committing to creating a national police oversight commission within the first 100 days of his administration.

Still, many say that the credibility Biden earned among civil rights leaders as vice president to Barack Obama, combined with his long-standing ties with law enforcement, including his work on the 1994 crime bill, make him well-positioned to bridge divides among law enforcement officials and civilians pushing for change.

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    Overview
    Iyanna Cooke hugs a friend at the site of Daniel Prude's killing by police after a vigil at First Church of God in Rochester, N.Y., on Sept. 3. (Libby March for The Washington Post)
    Iyanna Cooke hugs a friend at the site of Daniel Prude's killing by police after a vigil at First Church of God in Rochester, N.Y., on Sept. 3. (Libby March for The Washington Post)

    It will take more than words to ‘heal’ racial wounds

    By Tim Craig, Mark Berman and Amy B Wang

    The United States is a nation that has spent the past four years torn apart by racism, political polarization and mistrust stoked by a president who seems to relish the chaos he helps cause. Helping the country heal will be among President-elect Joe Biden’s top priorities. But as Biden prepares to take office on Jan. 20, his administration must confront just how deep the country’s wounds are as he attempts to finalize his agenda on policing, racial and social justice, and equity within the criminal justice system.

    Policing
    Demonstrators in Philadelphia on Oct. 27 protest the killing a day earlier of Walter Wallace Jr., who was shot by two officers after he refused to drop a knife he was holding.
    Demonstrators in Philadelphia on Oct. 27 protest the killing a day earlier of Walter Wallace Jr., who was shot by two officers after he refused to drop a knife he was holding. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)

    Biden, longtime ally of police, will urge reform

    By Mark Berman and Tom Jackman

    Some say President-elect Joe Biden’s previous work makes him uniquely qualified to connect policing groups and reform advocates. But he will face immense pressure from both sides as he tries to bridge the nation’s bitter divide over policing.

    Civil rights
    Demonstrators gather for a We Want Change rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on June 6 to protest the killing of George Floyd.
    Demonstrators gather for a We Want Change rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on June 6 to protest the killing of George Floyd. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

    Biden Justice Department will be different

    By Matt Zapotosky

    The Justice Department in the Biden administration is likely to increase resources for the civil rights division and resume wide-ranging scrutiny of troubled police departments nationwide, analysts say, as President-elect Joe Biden seeks to fulfill his campaign promises of combating systemic racism and fighting for equal rights. “With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it,” Biden said. “And at that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.” As Biden takes office, he will now have to address that threat himself, as hate crimes are on the rise and analysts say white supremacists and other domestic extremists have been emboldened by President Trump.

    Extremism
    Chanting "White lives matter," "You will not replace us" and "Jews will not replace us," several hundred white nationalists and white supremacists carrying torches march in Charlottesville on Aug. 11, 2017, during the Unite the Right Rally. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)
    Chanting "White lives matter," "You will not replace us" and "Jews will not replace us," several hundred white nationalists and white supremacists carrying torches march in Charlottesville on Aug. 11, 2017, during the Unite the Right Rally. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

    Trump’s recognition of white nationalists will loom

    By Matt Zapotosky

    When Joe Biden formally announced his entry into the presidential race in 2019, he said he was moved to do so while watching President Trump talk about a white nationalist rally that turned violent in Charlottesville. A woman protesting the racist demonstrators had been killed in the mayhem, but rather than condemning the white nationalists, Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides.”

    LGBTQ rights
    Kelly Miller, left, and her wife, Lindsey Miller, embrace on June 26, 2015, outside the White House, which was lit in multicolored lights in recognition of the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
    Kelly Miller, left, and her wife, Lindsey Miller, embrace on June 26, 2015, outside the White House, which was lit in multicolored lights in recognition of the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

    Biden may be most pro-equality president in history

    By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux

    Joe Biden will be the nation’s most pro-LGBTQ president ever. He and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris have promised an ambitious slate of actions that would go beyond reversing what LGBTQ advocates have called President Trump’s “discrimination administration.”

    Prisons
    Medical tents for inmates with the coronavirus are set up on outside San Quentin Prison in San Quentin, Calif., on July 9.
    Medical tents for inmates with the coronavirus are set up on outside San Quentin Prison in San Quentin, Calif., on July 9. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

    Can Biden end era of mass incarceration?

    By Justin Jouvenal

    A series of bills that Joe Biden helped write as a senator about three decades ago became the template for a tough-on-crime era that swelled the nation’s prison population. Now, as president-elect, Biden says he will pursue an ambitious agenda to essentially undo what he supported, but he faces skepticism from foes and friends alike.

    Drugs
    A chair used by people while they do drugs sits under a bridge near train tracks in Philadelphia on July 27. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
    A chair used by people while they do drugs sits under a bridge near train tracks in Philadelphia on July 27. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

    Biden, once a warrior, may retreat from ‘war on drugs’

    By Tim Craig

    President-elect Joe Biden built part of his political career on being known as a fighter in the “war on drugs,” supporting legislation as a senator that set harsh penalties for some drug offenses. But as president, Biden could potentially oversee broad changes in federal drug policy, including how the government and law enforcement agencies view drug addiction and treatment and classify the use of marijuana.

    Tim Craig is a national reporter on the America desk. He previously served as head of The Washington Post’s Afghanistan-Pakistan bureau, based in Islamabad and Kabul. He has also reported from Iraq, the District and Baltimore.
    Mark Berman is a national reporter for The Washington Post who covers law enforcement and criminal justice issues. He has been with The Post since 2007.
    Amy B Wang is a national politics reporter covering 2020 presidential campaigns. She joined The Washington Post in 2016 as a general assignment reporter after seven years with the Arizona Republic.
    Tom Jackman has been covering criminal justice for The Washington Post since 1998 and anchors the True Crime blog. He previously covered crime and courts for the Kansas City Star.
    Matt Zapotosky covers the Justice Department for The Washington Post's national security team. He has previously worked covering the federal courthouse in Alexandria and local law enforcement in Prince George's County and Southern Maryland.
    Emily Wax-Thibodeaux is a National staff writer who covers national news, with a focus on gender issues and social movements for the America desk. She is an award-winning former foreign correspondent who covered Africa and India for nearly a decade.
    Justin Jouvenal covers courts and policing in Fairfax County and across the nation. He joined The Post in 2009.
    About this story

    Editing by Simone Sebastian, Victoria Benning and Andrew deGrandpre. Design and development by Tyler Remmel. Additional development by Lucio Villa and Junne Alcantara. Design editing by Greg Manifold and Virginia Singarayar. Photo editing by Karly Domb Sadof. Copy editing by Carrie Camillo. Operations by María Sánchez Díez.