At Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Cory Booker challenged Joe Biden’s plan to combat mass incarceration and his role in crafting the 1994 crime bill, saying the former vice president was trying to evade taking responsibility for legislation that hurt minority communities by sending nonviolent offenders to prison.
“Mr. Vice President,” Booker said, challenging Biden’s stance on the issue, “there’s a saying in my community, ‘You’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor.’”
Booker’s retort came in an exchange after moderator Jake Tapper of CNN asked the former vice president about the New Jersey senator’s criticism of Biden’s plans. Booker recently referred to Biden’s criminal justice plan as an “inadequate solution to what is a raging crisis in our country.”
“I think he is wrong,” Biden said. “I think we should change the way we look at prisons. Right now we’re in a situation where when someone is convicted of a drug crime they end up going to jail and to prison. They should be going to rehabilitation, they shouldn’t be going to prison. When in prison they should be learning to read and write and not just sitting there learning how to be better criminals.
“And when they get out of prison, they should be in a situation where they have access to everything they had before,” he continued, referring to resources such as financial aid for college and public housing.
Booker, who’d referred to Biden as “an architect of mass incarceration,” responded sharply: “Mr. Vice President has said that since the 1970s every major crime bill, every crime bill, major and minor, has had his name on it.”
Booker also pointed to the crime bill Biden crafted when he was a Democratic senator from Delaware that increased penalties for drug crimes. “This is one of those instances where the house was set on fire and you claimed responsibilities for those laws. And you can’t just now come out with a plan to put out that fire.
“We have a system right now that’s broken, and if you want to compare records, and frankly I’m shocked that you do, I’m happy to do that,” Booker continued, calling for “far more bold action on criminal justice reform,” such as legalizing marijuana on a federal level.
Biden defended his record by criticizing the police department of Newark, where Booker was mayor from 2006 to 2013, for its “stop and frisk” program. “There’s nothing done for the entire eight years he was mayor, there’s nothing done to deal with the police department that was corrupt.”
Booker challenged Biden “to come to the city of Newark and see the reforms that we put in place.”
“Sir, you are trying to shift the view from what you created,” Booker said. “There are people right now in prison for life for drug offenses because you stood up and used that tough-on-crime phony rhetoric that got a lot of people elected but destroyed communities like mine.”
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