Warren meets with previously incarcerated Minnesotans, releases crime plan

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Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren met with previously incarcerated people in Minneapolis on Tuesday, unveiling a crime plan that calls for lighter mandatory prison sentences and ending the prosecution of kids who skip school.

Warren toured Better Futures Minnesota, a resale store on Minnehaha Avenue that employs men who have just been released from prison. She later led a roundtable discussion with the program’s chief executive, a Democratic state lawmaker, the chief Hennepin County public defender, and two formerly incarcerated Minnesotans.

Warren and rival Bernie Sanders are campaigning in Minnesota this week, stepping on the home turf of fellow presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar. Warren drew thousands of people at a rally Monday in St. Paul, which her campaign said was her biggest crowd to date.

Warren’s plan calls for rolling back the 1994 tough-on-crime law that Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden championed. Warren is seeking to reduce the mandatory minimum prison sentences that the law imposed, an apparent direct criticism of Biden’s work.

“It’s a direct criticism of a bill that has been very harmful to millions of people and has been particularly harmful to communities of color,” Warren told reporters when asked about Biden. “We need to correct that mistake.”

Warren and Sanders are in a close race for second place in the polls, with Biden out ahead.

Warren’s proposal advocates for the decriminalization of marijuana, eliminating cash bail, and ending prosecutions of truant students.

The criminalization of truancy doesn’t make Americans safer but traumatizes the students and families involved, she said.

“We have a chance to take those same resources and to move them into difference spaces, so our children get more support when they’re in school,” Warren said.

Better Futures Minnesota works with about 120 men at a time, providing them with a job, housing, and health and wellness knowledge, chief executive Thomas Adams said.

When men leave the program after two years of on-the-job training, they usually find work. But they’re often hired on at $14-15 an hour instead of the $24-25 an hour that other employees receive because of the stigma attached to their prison terms, Adams said.

“We have individuals who have done their time and we continue to marginalize them, ostracize them, and treat them not as second class citizens, but as no-class citizens,” he told Warren.

Kevin Reese, who was released from prison in July after serving 14 years for second-degree murder, said he was bringing the voices of inmates to the conversation.

While he can’t vote because of a Minnesota law that requires offenders to complete their entire prison and probation sentence first, he said previously incarcerated people need to be politically engaged.

“Rhetoric is great. Policies are great. Plans are great. For me, I’m interested to see what it looks like on the front line.”

Warren’s second Minnesota stop in as many days comes as Klobuchar’s campaign is stuck in neutral. The Minnesota senator has failed to break out of the pack in any of the four early-voting states, including Iowa, where she has focused her attention.

Asked if she could beat Klobuchar in her home state, Warren demurred.

“I’m out here to talk to people,” Warren said. “That’s what it’s all about. But we sure had a lot of fun last night (at the rally).”

Sanders is scheduled to appear Saturday night during a fundraiser at the Hook and Ladder Theater in Minneapolis. Other details of his trip to Minnesota were not immediately known.