Public safety system stacked against poor, Elizabeth Warren charges

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democratic presidential candidate, answers a question July 24 during a forum a
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democratic presidential candidate, answers a question July 24 during a forum at the annual convention of the NAACP in Detroit, Michigan. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has rolled out a plan for reforming a public safety system that she said is stacked against the poor and disadvantaged.

The public safety system is the result of choices made over the years that have criminalized too many things and sent too many people to jail for too long while doing little to rehabilitate them, Warren said in unveiling a plan to reduce mass incarceration and strengthen communities.

“To make matters worse, the evidence is clear that there are structural race problems in this system,” she said in her plan released Tuesday.

She noted that Latino adults are three times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, and black Americans are more likely than whites to be arrested, charged, wrongfully convicted, and given harsher sentences for the same crimes.

“Real reform requires examining every step of this system: From what we choose to criminalize, to how law enforcement and prosecutors engage with communities and the accused, to how long we keep people behind bars, how we treat them when they’re there, and how we reintegrate them when they return,” Warren said in the plan.

She calls for breaking the prison-to-school pipeline, reducing homelessness, investing in programs to prevent violence and divert criminal behavior, decriminalizing mental health, and investing in substance abuse programs. Warren also calls for ending cash bail and restricting fines and fees.

The federal government oversees just 12 percent of people in prison, but federal grants make up a third of state budgets, so Warren would use the power of the purse to reprioritize states’ use of restorative justice and expand grant-making to require funds be used for criminal justice reform.


“We will reduce incarceration and improve justice in our country by changing what we choose to criminalize, reforming police behavior and improving police-community relations, and reining in a system that preferences prosecution over justice,” Warren said. “Most importantly, we’ll rethink the way we approach public safety — emphasizing preventive approaches over law enforcement and incarceration. That’s the way we’ll create real law and order and real justice in our country.”

More about her plan can be found at

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