Updated: March 2, 2021
President Joseph R. Biden’s stance on reforming drug laws and incarceration may change the lives of millions of Americans.
At a CNN town hall with Anderson Cooper in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on February 16, Mr. Biden laid out his plans and motivations for making positive change in the United States, especially when it comes to drug offenses, incarceration and ex-offenders.
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The town hall gave the president a chance to answer questions on some of the most pressing and challenging issues facing the United States today, covering a wide range of topics, including the Covid vaccine rollout, Covid relief plans, racial disparities in public health, systemic racism, minimum wage, loan relief, the incarceration system, Immigration reform.
Changing how America views incarceration was one of the topics Biden expressed a desire for reform. “No one should go to jail for a drug offense. No one should go to jail for the use of a drug. They should go to drug rehabilitation,” the president said.
Biden also condemned “the idea that we don’t have people in prison systems learning how to be mechanics, learning how to be cooks, learning how to have a profession when you get out.”
He lamented the fact that ex-offenders are denied basic rights, including housing and other benefits that can help them reintegrate the society well.
Without support from the society, the president said, “You end up back under the bridge exactly where you were before.”
Currently, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world with over two million people in jail at any given time. Given the incarceration rate, there is a lack of support for their rehabilitation while in prison, preventing their preparation to contribute to society again.
Despite serving their time, once released, many criminals are treated as second class citizens, and often lose some rights granted to a normal citizen. They face numerous barriers in attempting to become functioning members of society again. Some of the limitations include employment, housing, and education.
If President Biden were to change legislation to address these issues, ex-offenders would have an opportunity to gain some of their rights back and become functioning members of society again with no limitations. Creating a path to normal citizenship for ex-offenders could prove extremely beneficial for the individual, their families and communities, and society.
The president also expressed a clear stance on decriminalizing drug use, stating that drug offenders should receive drug rehabilitation instead of time in jail.
The idea mostly aligns with Oregon’s most recent law that completely decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of all drugs as of February 1, 2021.
Instead of facing arrest, individuals in possession of small amounts of drugs will receive guided access to culturally responsive treatment, peer support and recovery services, and harm reduction and other health services.
The Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance stated “For the first time in at least half a century, one place in the United States- Oregon – will show us that we can give people help without punishing them.
This law is meant to protect people against the persecution, harassment and criminalization at the hands of the state for using drugs and instead given access to the supports they need. Over the last year, we have been painfully reminded of the harms that come from drug war policing and the absence of necessary health services and other support systems in our communities . Today, Oregon shows us a better, more just world is possible”.
Oregon’s new stance on drug decriminalization is an evolutionary milestone in progressive law making that aims to aid drug users well being, not diminish it. If President Biden follows through on his stance with legislative action in the future, Oregon may not be the only state to completely decriminalize all drug use and turn to methods that create a more just world.