David Gyung/Shutterstock.com

Updated February 28, 2024

Where do the 2024 presidential candidates stand on the issue of criminal justice, and how do their stances compare?

According to polls around the 2022 midterms, around 61% of registered voters believed that violent crime was "very important" to their voting decisions. There is a partisan divide on criminal justice’s importance; 73% of Republicans say violent crime is very important to their vote, while 49% of Democratic voters say the same. 

Voter perceptions may be influenced by media coverage, conditions in their own communities rather than the national level, and public statements from political candidates; Republican candidates have emphasized crime in their campaigns. 

During the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement reignited public debate over police relations with racial minorities. 87% of black Americans say they are treated less fairly by the criminal justice system than white Americans. However, 47% of the public believe that police spending should be increased, up from 31% in June 2020. Additionally, the public remains divided over the appropriate sentencing for convicts. 41% of Democrats say that convicts spend too much time in prison, compared with 44% of Republicans who say they spend too little time. Further, though 79% of Americans believe there is some risk of innocent people being executed, 60% of Americans favor the death penalty. 

Topics:


Private Prisons

Joe Biden (D)

As president, he vowed to end the federal government’s use of private prisons for detention after facing pressure from Bernie Sanders and other liberals; this comes as a change from his term as vice president during President Barack Obama’s administration, which opened private detention facilities at the Southern border. He signed an executive order directing the Attorney General (AG) to abstain from renewing the Department of Justice’s contracts with privately operated prisons. However, during his term, he moved federal inmates housed in private prisons to Bureau of Prisons facilities.

Dean Phillips (D)

No stance available.

Nikki Haley (R)

According to her voter base, she believes that the government should not hire private companies to run prisons.

Donald Trump (R)

During his 2020 presidential run, the private prison industry gave large donations to Trump’s campaign. As president, he used private prisons to detain immigrants and asylum seekers and agreed to long-term contracts with several companies.

Cornel West (Ind.)

He has advocated to end the prison industrial complex and hopes to institute a Prisoner Bill of Rights for the humane treatment of the incarcerated.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (Ind.)

According to his voter base, he believes that private prisons will sacrifice the quality of care and rehabilitative services given to the incarcerated for profit.


Mandatory Minimums

Joe Biden (D)

A spokesperson for the president stated that Biden supports an end to mandatory minimums, promising to “work for the passage of legislation to repeal mandatory minimums at the federal level and give states incentives to repeal their mandatory minimums.” Memos from Merrick Garland, the Attorney General under Biden’s administration, called for the scaling back of mandatory minimums including for drug crimes, but not for eliminating them.

Dean Phillips (D)

No stance available.

Nikki Haley (R)

She does not support mandatory minimum prison sentences for people charged with possession.

Donald Trump (R)

As president, he signed the First Step Act, which increased the threshold for prior convictions to count toward higher mandatory minimums; this applied retroactively to those sentenced for the possession of crack cocaine. He also allowed courts to sentence less than the mandatory minimum for low-level, nonviolent convicts.

Cornel West (Ind.)

He hopes to end mandatory minimums and sentence enhancement.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (Ind.)

He does not support mandatory minimum prison sentences for people charged with drug possession.


Capital Punishment

Joe Biden (D)

His campaign promised to abolish the federal death penalty and incentivize states to follow. As president, he temporarily established a moratorium on federal executions; however, the Department of Justice continued to back death sentences for some federal defendants.

Dean Phillips (D)

He opposes the death penalty.

Nikki Haley (R)

During the state trial of Dylann Roof, the perpetrator of the Charleston church shooting, Haley supported the use of the death penalty.

Donald Trump (R)

He supports the death penalty on a federal level; 13 criminals were executed under his presidency by the federal government. He also wishes to institute the death penalty for drug traffickers.

Marianne Williamson (D)

Williamson calls for abolishing the death penalty.

Cornel West (Ind.)

He hopes to ban the death penalty and life without parole on the federal level.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (Ind.)

No stance available.


Police Force

Joe Biden (D)

He signed an executive order to improve police accountability by creating a database of police misconduct and consistent discipline.

Dean Phillips (D)

One of his campaign leadership hires supported the defunding of the police. However, Phillips himself remains critical of the Defund the Police movement. He introduced the Pathways to Policing Act to address the police shortage by providing funding to the Department of Justice to operate recruitment campaigns.

Nikki Haley (R)

As governor of South Carolina, she signed a police body camera bill that required state and local law enforcement agencies to use body cameras and to develop body camera policies and procedures. She supports hard-on-crime police measures and attacked Trump’s unpaid security costs.

Donald Trump (R)

He provided nearly $400 million for new law enforcement hiring to mitigate the police shortage. He established a commission to evaluate training practices for law enforcement officers. He also signed the Safe Policing for Safe Communities executive order which incentivized reforms in local police departments.

Marianne Williamson (D)

"End the reliance on police and law enforcement to handle homelessness, mental health crises, and other non-violent situations," reads her website.

Cornel West (Ind.)

He hopes to “shut down Cop City” and similar facilities. He wants to redistribute police funding to unarmed community-led forces and prohibit police training programs by military forces.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (Ind.)

According to his voter base, he believes that police officers should be required to wear body cameras in order to protect the safety of police officers and citizens. He does not support qualified immunity for police officers and hopes to increase the personal liability for misconduct.


Cash Bail

Joe Biden (D)

He promised to end cash bail and reform the pretrial system. However, he did not express explicit support for the No Money Bail Act, which would restrict the use of money bail in criminal cases, or Community First Pretrial Reform Act, which would require the Department of Justice to award grants to reduce the number of individuals in local jails.

Dean Phillips (D)

No stance available.

Nikki Haley (R)

No stance available.

Donald Trump (R)

Trump does not support the abolition of cash bail. After New York had reformed its bail system, he tweeted that the state was letting out "hardened and bad" criminals.

Marianne Williamson (D)

Williamson supports ending cash bail.

Cornel West (Ind.)

No stance available.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (Ind.)

Though in 1966, he asked whether cash bail was appropriate, it is unclear where he stands now on the issue.


Marijuana Legalization 

Joe Biden (D)

He believes that “no one should be in jail for using or possessing marijuana” and supports both the federal legalization of marijuana and the rescheduling of marijuana. The rescheduling of marijuana would change it from a Schedule I narcotic to Schedule III, making it available through a prescription.

Dean Phillips (D)

In a letter, Phillips endorsed the legalization of adult recreation cannabis in Minnesota and called on the Minnesota House and Senate to pass the legislation. He was rated 100% by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Nikki Haley (R)

She believes that the issue of marijuana should be decided at the state level rather than the federal level.

Donald Trump (R)

He is against the legalization of marijuana, hoping to instate a federal ban.

Marianne Williamson (D)

Williamson says she would "de-schedule cannabis from a Schedule One drug on my first day in office."

Cornel West (Ind.)

No stance available.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (Ind.)

He has called for the federal legalization of marijuana to "end addiction."


This blog was written by Harry Ding, content intern (Center bias). It was reviewed and edited by Henry A. Brechter (Center bias), Malayna Bizier (Right bias), Julie Mastrine (Lean Right bias), and Joseph Ratliff (Lean Left bias).