South Carolina is the fourth early-voting state in the 2020 Democratic primaries, with a Democratic electorate that is 55 percent black.
“We are the wealthiest country in the history of the world,” Sanders said. “That’s a fact. Yet we have more people in jail and in the criminal justice system — on probation and on parole — by far, ain’t even close, than any other major country on Earth. . . . And the folks that we have in jail are disproportionately poor, disproportionately minority — African American, Latino, Native American.”
Earlier this year, Sanders made waves when he announced during a CNN town hall that he believes incarcerated felons should be allowed to vote while serving their sentences. Sanders’s criminal justice plan formalizes that proposal, stating that “all voting-age Americans must have the right and meaningful access to vote, whether they are incarcerated or not.”
Other 2020 contenders, including former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), have rolled out criminal justice plans in recent months. The issue is one that has risen to prominence as attitudes about race and criminal justice have changed considerably over the years in both parties, along with a significant drop in crime rates.
Democrats in particular have moved away from policies that empower police and prosecutors, instead committing to addressing inequities that they say have damaged minority communities.
Sanders’s plan would ban cash bail and civil-asset forfeiture, boost the number of public defenders, legalize marijuana and vacate past marijuana convictions. It also calls for ending the national rape kit backlog and banning the prosecution of children under 18 in adult courts.
Matt Viser contributed to this report.