ACLU pushes Garland on criminal justice reform policies ahead of hearing

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is pressing President Biden’s attorney general pick, Merrick Garland, to commit to certain criminal justice reform policies during his confirmation hearing next week.

The ACLU intends to send Garland a letter on Thursday calling on him to make “on-the-record commitments” to address mass incarceration, policing, COVID-19 in federal prisons, the federal death penalty and solitary confinement if confirmed as attorney general. Garland’s confirmation hearing is scheduled for Feb. 22. 

In the letter, Cynthia Roseberry, the deputy director for policy at the ACLU justice division, urged the attorney general nominee to “make clear” that if he runs the Justice Department it “will adopt policies to build a more racially just criminal legal system.”

“Your nomination comes at a moment when America faces an overdue reckoning with racial injustice that can start to be addressed with policies such as adopting a federal use-of-force standard, decriminalizing marijuana, and ending mandatory minimum sentences,” she wrote in the letter. 

Roseberry slammed former President Trump’s administration for its “tough-on-crime” policies, noting that “merely reversing” them “will not do enough to end mass incarceration.” 

The ACLU urged Garland, if confirmed, to instruct prosecutors not to issue mandatory minimums when alternate charges are available, calling it “perhaps the single most impactful action you can take” to reduce mass incarceration.

The advocacy group also requested that Garland vow to dismantle the war on drugs by seeking to reduce and de-prioritize federal marijuana enforcement and by requesting a review from the Department of Health and Human Services on whether marijuana should continue to be classified as a Schedule 1 substance. 

For policing reform, the ACLU called for the Justice Department to set “clear national standards” for all law enforcement agencies to follow “common-sense limitations and best practices” to decrease excessive use of force, she said, citing George Floyd’s death last year. The letter also encouraged Garland to remove “arbitrary barriers against holding police departments and officers accountable for misconduct.”

Roseberry condemned the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in federal prisons, pointing to the 222 federal inmate coronavirus deaths, according to the Bureau of Prisons. The ACLU requested that Garland commit to “swiftly offer” coronavirus vaccinations to those in custody. 

In the letter, Garland was also urged to suspend federal executions and end the federal death penalty that the ACLU says is “plagued by racial bias, geographic arbitrariness, and unfairness.” The ACLU appeals to the incoming attorney general to stop “the ineffective and inhumane use of solitary confinement” in federal facilities, noting it “has exacerbated the virus spread.”

Following Garland’s hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote on his nomination March 1.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the new committee chair, had pushed for a hearing two weeks earlier ahead of President Trump’s impeachment trial, but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was chairman until last week, declined due to scheduling conflicts with the trial.

Tags ACLU American Civil Liberties Union Criminal justice Criminal justice reform death penalty Dick Durbin Donald Trump federal death penalty federal prisons Joe Biden Justice Department Law enforcement Lindsey Graham mass incarceration Merrick Garland Police Solitary confinement

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