Harris and Biden Find Common Ground on Criminal Justice Reform

By Shani Saxon Aug 12, 2020

A key factor in bringing Kamala Harris and Joe Biden together on the Democratic presidential ticket was their shared focus on reforming the criminal justice system, The Washington Post reports. As the Black Lives Matter movement grows and continues to highlight the urgent need for such reforms, Biden realized he needed Harris, who faced tough criticism during and after her career as a prosecutor, but has evolved into a progressive thinker. 

Reports The Post:

As Harris makes history as the first Black woman named to a major-party national ticket, Biden has moved markedly closer to her viewpoint, acknowledging that key parts of his crime bill “went wrong” and vowing to undo it.

Lara Bazelon, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, spoke to The Post about Biden partnering with Harris, whom she has been critical of in the past for her claim years ago that she was a “progressive prosecutor.” Now, Bazelon tells The Post, this Democratic ticket “could be a game changer” for criminal justice if elected. 

In spite of Harris and Biden claiming to land on common ground regarding criminal justice reform, questions will rise about just how true that actually is. According to The Post:

…as [Harris] takes on the role of running mate and as every detail of her life becomes subject to intense examination, Harris, 55, is bound to face questions about her career as a prosecutor and the degree to which she and Biden, 77, are truly in sync on a crucial issue.

Biden once said that “it doesn’t matter whether or not” criminals “were deprived as a youth,” while Harris has written about criminals who were “marked for a bleak future solely because of the circumstances of their birth.”

Biden once said the answer to fighting crime is that criminals “must be taken off the street,” while Harris has said one of the gravest injustices of recent decades is that this has become “an era of mass incarceration.”

Lateefah Simon, hired in 2004 by Harris to help institute a program to reduce incarceration rates, told The Post her former boss will undoubtedly help Biden undo his previous bad policies. “It was her job to undo bad policy,” she said. “Can you imagine that we are going to have a vice president that is a Black woman, who carries a migrant story of her mother, who has been trying to undo the criminalization of poor people and immigrants for her whole career?”

Bazelon says she has seen a change in Harris ever since she became a U.S. Senator. In California, Bazelon said, Harris “didn’t want to legalize marijuana, she didn’t want her office as attorney general to investigate officer-involved shootings.” But as a senator, Bazelon said that Harris has “evolved” and is now much more progressive.

The Post notes:

In the end, the growing movement to embrace criminal justice reform, and the backlash against Biden’s work on the 1994 crime bill, helped lead the former vice president to pick Harris as his running mate.

“Not only Joe Biden but the Democratic Party itself has evolved quite significantly over the last decade, and Senator Harris has been a trailblazer on the issue of criminal justice reform,” said Brian Brokaw, who ran Harris’s campaign for California attorney general and remains an adviser. “I think the two of them are very much in line in how they see the world and the change that has to be made in that respect.”