When it comes to reforming America’s broken criminal justice system, Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that. Actually, she has a lot of plans for that.
The 2020 candidate unveiled a plan on Tuesday that would — among other things — decriminalize marijuana, abolish the death penalty, and end the money bail system, all of which disproprtionately harm low-income individuals and people of color. Warren outlined the plan in a Medium post claiming the U.S. system of mass incarceration “stacks the deck” against marginalized people, including queer and transgender folks.
“Simply put, we have criminalized too many things,” the Massachusetts Senator writes. “We send too many people to jail. We keep them there for too long. We do little to rehabilitate them. We spend billions, propping up an entire industry that profits from mass incarceration.”
The majority of Warren’s plan doesn’t focus on LGBTQ+ people as a population, but she routinely highlights the specific needs of the community. While calling on cities across the U.S. to “stop criminalizing homelessness,” she claims that laws which ban “sleeping in public or living in vehicles… disproportionately impact communities of color, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities, all of whom experience higher rates of homelessness.”
According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, the elevated rate of homelessness is particularly pervasive among LGBTQ+ youth, who face being forced out of their homes and communities. An estimated 40 percent of young people in drop-in centers and homeless shelters are queer or trans.
Warren’s wide-ranging agenda for criminal justice reform also hints at a plan to ensure trans people are housed in accordance with their gender identity in lockup facilities. Guidelines issued by the Department of Justice in 2016 mandated that prisons make individualized assessments when assigning trans inmates by gender, ones which take into consideration the individual’s safety. As the advocacy group Human Rights Watch notes, “assigning a transgender prisoner… based solely on their sex assigned at birth” violates federal law.
The Trump administration has fought to repeal the 2016 guidance, but the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), passed under George W. Bush with bipartisan support, remains in place.
“I’ll implement a rigorous auditing program to ensure that prisons are adhering to legal requirements to protect LGBTQ+ individuals and others from sexual violence and assault while incarcerated, and prosecute prison staff who engage in misconduct,” Warren claims in the Medium post.
That component of the plan doesn't mention trans people specfically and it could be a sticking point for some: an LGBTQ+ rights agenda unveiled in May was criticized for not doing more to address the needs on trans inmates.
Warren has previously apologized for saying gender-affirming care for trans prisoners is “not a good use of taxpayer dollars” during the 2012 Massachusetts gubernatorial race.
Her plan on criminal justice reform is too detailed to discuss in full, but it also includes other proposed policies that affect LGBTQ+ people, including improved oversight for law enforcement agencies, increased implementation of bias training, and rethinking how police officers deal with someone experiencing a mental health crisis. Kawaski Trawick, a 32-year-old black, bisexual man, was shot four times by the NYPD after neighbors reported he was having a breakdown in April.
Warren, who is currently polling in second in the Democratic primaries, also plans to repeal the Clinton-era “tough on crime” bill that led to increased incarcerations. Joe Biden, the frontrunner in the 2020 race, authored the 1994 legislation.