Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders will introduce a bill this week that aims to shut down private prisons, restore federal parole, and catapult himself into the center of the national conversation on criminal-justice reform.
Sanders’s bill will be released just as a bipartisan group of senators, led by Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and Minority Whip Dick Durbin, is putting its finishing touches on its own long-awaited reform legislation. That bill is expected to reduce some mandatory minimums and implement programs that ease offenders back into society after incarceration.
In a month when Congress is divided over an Iranian nuclear deal and Republican leaders are bracing for a potential shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding, criminal-justice reform is a rare unifying kernel of policy in Washington. And Sanders’s decision to roll out his plan now, in the face of potential congressional dysfunction, is no coincidence; it is key to his campaign’s identity. Sanders is trying to remind voters he is above the fray on Capitol Hill, even if he needs the Senate floor to dispatch his message. Sanders’s style is far from that of Sen. Rand Paul, who fundraised from the Senate floor during the national security debate in Congress, or Sen. Ted Cruz, who led a government shutdown in 2013, but Sanders too has the ability to use the Senate as a launching ground.