Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) shared his ideas for criminal justice reform on Sunday, calling for the end to cash bail and claiming that “hundreds of thousands” of people are in U.S. prisons “convicted of nothing.”
Sanders was one of the candidates who spoke at the Young Leaders Conference in Atlanta this weekend and National Public Radio (NPR) asked what he said to “thousands of black millennials.”
“You’d end cash bail,” Weekend Edition host Lulu Garcia-Navarro said in the interview.
Sanders said the criminal justice system is “deeply, deeply, deeply broken” and that the United States spends $80 billion a year to “lock-up over two million Americans” and that prevention rather than punishment should be the priority.
And he said “hundreds of thousands” of people are behind bars because they are poor.
“We have an insane system, which I think not many people are aware of, that, Lulu, today, 20 percent of the people who are in jail at this moment, their crime is they are poor,” Sanders said. “They have been convicted of nothing. They are in jail because they cannot afford cash bail.”
“And I think people are listening to this, like, that can’t be true. Do you mean that we have hundreds of thousands of people in jail right now who have been convicted of nothing?” Sanders said. “Yes, that’s right, convicted of nothing. But they cannot afford the … five hundred dollars or the $1,000 they need for cash bail.”
Garcia-Navarro asked about his plan to pull federal funding from states that won’t end cash bail policies.
“That’s a pretty big stick to use, isn’t it?” Garcia-Navarro asked.
“Well, I think you’re dealing with a very big problem,” Sanders said. “It is hard to imagine that, in the year 2019, we are back in Charles Dickens’ era of debtor prisons. Hundreds of thousands of people in jail right now – why? Because they can’t afford bail; they are poor.”
But data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics shows some facts differ from Sanders’ claims in the NPR interview.