Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren met with Minnesotans who are trying to improve the transition to life after prison Tuesday, following her release of a criminal justice reform plan.
People who spent years locked up told Warren about lingering trauma, the burden of lengthy paroles, problematic local policies and the challenges of finding a living-wage job and affordable housing.
“A big part of it is about where we decide we’re going to spend our money,” Warren said after the event. “And putting our money into criminalizing people’s activities and to incarcerating more and more people — it doesn’t make us any safer, but it traumatizes the people who are involved.”
A better long-term investment to improve community safety is boosting resources for schoolchildren, she said. She gathered with nonprofit members and government and court officials inside the ReUse Warehouse of Better Futures Minnesota for the criminal justice roundtable, a somewhat last-minute event that followed Monday night’s large campaign rally at Macalester College.
Better Futures President and CEO Thomas Adams said systemic disadvantages and lasting stigmas need to be addressed so people have a chance to succeed post-prison.
“We have individuals who have done their time and we continue to marginalize them, ostracize them and treat them not only as second class, but as no-class citizens,” he said.
Warren toured the warehouse and discussed the organization’s work of employing and housing people coming out of prison. But she spent much of her time at the roundtable asking questions and listening. She made relatively few comments about the extensive changes she had proposed Tuesday. They include reducing court fees, establishing a federal use-of-force standard and repealing the bulk of a 1994 law that cracked down on crime, which some have blamed for contributing to mass incarceration.
When asked whether she was criticizing a competitor, former Vice President Joe Biden, who championed the 1994 bill, Warren said, “It’s a direct criticism of a bill that has been very harmful to millions of people.”
Her plan does not just touch on court and prisons, but also housing instability and breaking the school-to-prison pipeline. It says more school counselors and social workers are needed and truancy should be decriminalized.
The Massachusetts senator is not the only Democratic presidential candidate to present plans to change the criminal justice system. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Biden have offered proposals, as has Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Klobuchar, a former Hennepin County prosecutor, said she would create a clemency advisory board and add a criminal justice reform adviser at the White House. Warren also suggested changing the clemency process and adding a board that would make recommendations to the White House.
State Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, led the roundtable. If Warren is elected, he said he hopes she could use her power to influence state policymakers. He said her use-of-force standard could provide guidance for Minnesota, as well as her plan to end private prisons.
Kevin Reese, the criminal justice director at Voices for Racial Justice, was also at the table.
He was recently released from prison after 14 years. The night before he met with Warren, he called the men he was in prison with and asked what they wanted her to know. He said they asked what a Warren win would mean on the ground in Minnesota.
“Locally, we know there is intricate details,” Reese said. “ … If she were to win, what is the support and resources that she would put into the local organizations and the local communities?”