By Julia L., Seventh Grade, Krieger Schechter Day School of Chizuk Amuno

As we quickly approach the November election, it is useful to remember a candidate’s past. Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, has a history of supporting and writing bills that include “tough on crime” policies. These policies that Vice President Biden has supported, written, and contributed to led to mass incarcerations in the 1990s.

What bills have former Vice President Biden supported? Should we trust Joe Biden’s judgment? What impacts have his policies had on the Joe Biden campaign? 

According to the New York Magazine article, “Will Black Voters Still Love Biden When They Remember Who He Was?”the 1994 bill written by Biden expanded the death penalty, cut funding for schooling for incarcerated juveniles, and ultimately led states to enact harsher sentences. Previously, Biden supported bills that were pro-bussing, abolished federal parole, and supported longer sentences for marijuana possession.

On his website, JoeBiden.com, Biden writes that he would want to end cash bail, ensure more humane prison conditions, and eliminate racial disparities in the criminal justice system. According to Lily Levin, a student writer for the Duke Chronicle,Duke University’s student newspaper, and an activist for Sunrise Movement, a movement to help fight climate change, “[Joe Biden is] not unique in the fact that he’s flip-flopped [on ideas].  Elizabeth Warren was a Republican until [age] 47, and [then President] Bill Clinton was the main author of the tough on crime bill.” Now, Elizabeth Warren is a Democrat, and Bill Clinton and Joe Biden no longer support the “tough on crime” ideology. 

Notwithstanding his current positions, Joe Biden has previously been caught on record telling people that we need to be more tough on crime policy.

According to Vox, in a 1989 article titled “Joe Biden’s Long Record Supporting the War on Drugs and Mass Incarceration,” Joe Biden criticized George W. Bush’s policy for being “not tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand.” The crisis [to which he was referring] was crime in America.

So why has Joe Biden’s policy changed? Paul Waldman, an opinion writer for the plum line blog was quoted in The Atlantic. “It’s not only the Democratic Party that’s changed,” Waldman said. “It’s the country and the context that’s changed. Crime between 1960 and 1990 tripled …. The level of social disruption and panic that caused it is hard to explain now because since then the crime rate has been dropping. We are living with the consequences of the reaction to the very real social crisis of the time.” Levin explains the reason for his change is that “[Joe Biden’s] past support is reflective of what was seen as what politically would get him the most votes at the time.” 

Biden has been looked at negatively because of his changing political views, and for this he has apologized. However, change can be a good thing. According to Emma Baldinger, a rising junior at George Washington University and an intern at Emily’s List, “[Changing political views] can be a sign of being able to learn and grow. It [is] important in a candidate.” 

The bigger issue is making sure that we can change the ways of the current criminal justice system. According to Baldinger, “I definitely think that [Joe Biden] would make improvements… He’s changed his stance, and when we look at not only what Donald Trump has believed and done in the past but what he’s currently done and doing, and has done more recently and plans on doing in the future, it is so much worse than the thought of what Joe Biden supported in the past.”  Perhaps, though, it is not the politicians themselves who will make a difference. According to Levin, “Politicians are not the people who will really implement systemic change; you need people outside of Washington to do that.”  

Biden’s past support of tough on crime ideals lead many people to question his judgment. He wrote a bill that supported policy that he no longer supports. Most politicians do change their mind, which is nothing to be ashamed of. However, we should pay attention to the reasons behind a politician changing his/her mind whether it be for the better or for more votes. 

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