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'Justice and Safety for All': Sanders Uses Criminal Justice Forum to Push Case for Systemic Overhaul

"The primary goal of a criminal justice system should not be punishment, but whenever possible, rehabilitation."

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) delivers remarks at a campaign function in the Marvin Center at George Washington University on June 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) delivers remarks at a campaign function in the Marvin Center at George Washington University on June 12, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

A criminal justice forum in South Carolina Saturday offered Sen. Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, another chance to differentiate himself from President Donald Trump.

"The primary goal of a criminal justice system should not be punishment, but whenever possible, rehabilitation," Sanders tweeted shortly after leaving the stage at the forum.

Sanders also used social media to address the U.S. prison system and its connection to economic injustice in the country.

On Thursday, as Common Dreams reported, the Vermont senator announced his plan to legalize marijuana and engage in restorative justice practices for those affected by the war on drugs. In August, Sanders unveiled an ambitious criminal justice reform bill that would "fundamentally transform" the carceral system.

In an opinion piece published Friday, South Carolina State Rep. Justin Bamberg argued that Sanders has the best shot at making criminal justice reform a reality. 

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"Sanders is the only 2020 presidential candidate who has spent a lifetime addressing the social ills and injustices that gave rise to the mass incarceration, police violence, and racial profiling that plague our system today," wrote Bamberg. 

The Sanders campaign, via its "Bern After Reading" newsletter, listed a number of ways that Sanders' record on criminal justice is ahead of the president's performance in office, including on marijuana legalization, racial profiling, the death penalty, and prison reform. 

Prison reform in particular is an important topic for South Carolinians. The state is notorious for its treatment of prisoners; as Common Dreams reported on October 23, conditions recently led advocates to petition the U.N. for relief because state and federal officials are not addressing the issue and leaving the prisoners with no other path to redress. 

"Beyond the basic level of terror in U.S. prison conditions, conditions in South Carolina have been specifically repressive for a few years now," Jared Ware, a prisoner rights advocate, told Common Dreams on Wednesday.

Bamberg, in his op-ed Friday, said that he was backing Sanders because the senator's record shows he's ready to lead on the issue. 

"I am supporting Bernie Sanders because I believe that investing in prevention, public health and fair sentencing is the best approach to criminal justice reform ," wrote Bamberg, "and because Sanders is the best candidate to ensure justice and safety for all."

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