colorado jail marijuana
Ending Marijuana Prohibition

Broad Coalition Calls For Serious Criminal Justice Reforms In Congress

colorado jail marijuanaBy Phillip Smith

The current Congress is already seeing a flurry of bills aimed at reforming various aspects of the federal criminal justice system, and now, a broad coalition of faith, criminal justice reform, and civil and human rights groups is calling for the passage of legislation that will dramatically reduce the size of the federal prison system.

The groups, which include the United Methodist Church, the NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and dozens of other organizations, this week sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees setting out a statement of principles on what meaningful federal-level criminal justice reform should include.

“We urge you to support and advance criminal justice legislative reforms aimed at meaningfully addressing the primary drivers of dangerous overcrowding, unsustainable costs, and unwarranted racial disparities in the federal prison system,” the letter said.

The letter called for Congress to:

§  Restore proportionality to drug sentencing

§  Promote and adequately fund recidivism reduction and reentry programming

§  Make sentencing reductions retroactive

§  Expand BOP’s Compassionate Release Program

§  Expand time credits for good behavior

The federal prison population has expanded nearly ten-fold since the launch of the Reagan-era war on drugs three decades ago. In 1980, there were 22,000 federal prisoners; now, there are 210,000. And the war on drugs is one of the largest drivers of the increase. The number of federal drug prisoners has risen at twice the rate of the overall federal prison population; from fewer than 5,000 in 1980 to just under 100,000 now.

Last year, the federal prison population declined for the first time in 34 years, thanks in part to already enacted sentencing reforms, but the decline is marginal. More substantive reforms will be required to make bigger reductions in the carceral state.

The call comes as both the Obama administration and members of both parties have shown increasing signs of willingness to take on the federal criminal justice behemoth.  Attorney General Holder has called repeatedly for a rollback of mandatory minimum sentencing and other harsh sentencing policies, while even House and Senate Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Reps. Jason Chafetz (R-UT) and Raul Labrador (R-ID) are sponsoring reform bills.

That Republican openness to sentencing reforms even extends to grumpy hard-liners like Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the octogenarian chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I’ve expressed in the committee, maybe even on the floor, concern about inequitable sentencing,” he said earlier this year. “White-collar crime has been treated less harshly than blue-collar crime, and it seems to me there’s an opportunity maybe to take care of that inequity.”

“It’s encouraging to see Republicans and Democrats engaged in seeking constructive solutions to excessive incarceration,” said Jeremy Haile, Federal Advocacy Counsel at The Sentencing Project. “To reduce federal prison populations and racial disparities, Congress should take an all-of-the-above approach, addressing excessive sentencing, limitations on programming in federal prisons, and barriers that prevent successful reentry.”

“It’s clear that there is a path forward for criminal justice reform in the House and Senate, but lawmakers should ensure that any final bill gets at the root causes of mass incarceration,” said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “It’s important that legislation doesn’t just paper over the cracks.”

Maybe there is something after all where Democrats and Republicans can work together. We shall see as the year progresses.

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  • Johnny Bloomington

    Article picture confuses me as to how its related.

    • I think it’s a picture of an overcrowded prison

      • Johnny Bloomington

        Oh ok ;)

  • colin42

    The people who love prison; they deserve to feel it. I HATE the people who love prison, who joke about prison rape….. who think it’s a “paid vacation”….

    The destruction of the human mind; caging beings like they’re animals, often for very small crimes, including private drug use. One day this will end; either enough people will become empathetic and reasonable, or enough people will be forced to tolerate others. Sometimes, when I’m hateful enough, I dream of the latter.

  • Steve Coombs

    Rand paul has introduced a lot of good bills…I hope they can get some passed

    • Jordan Shorette

      Honestly I couldnt agree more, im a hard democrat but rand paul is doing a good job winning my vote over for 2016 most impressive republican I have seen for a long time.

      • Kane

        Rand Paul is hardly a Republican. He’s more Libertarian leaning than anything, and thats what we need. Sooner we stop voting for Republicants and Democraps the better or this whole country will be.

        • Jordan Shorette

          yea but on paper hes republican. that stuff doesn’t really matter to me regardless I just agree more with “think for yourself” approach democrats have rather then the “do what daddy always did” the republicans gloat. its all majority vote so I don’t know why anyone even needs the dem or rep label anyways.

          • Kane

            The only reason he’s a Repub on paper is because not enough people will vote for the Libertarian ballot. Although I do hear where your coming from.

        • Bobber

          Rand is a traditional republican before the neocons came.

          • moses

            Rand Paul is just another jackass don’t fool yourself into thinking anything different his motivation and backing marijuana legalization is non-existent he still believes in a system of incarceration he just thinks it looks bad that ere’s more black peopl in jail than white people he after the African American vote thats it thats all someone thinks that he’s some compassionate altruistic person he’s not if it weren’t for his father he wouldn’t be where he is now

  • Cyndysub

    I hope some if not all of this sanity will stick.

  • Jean Anne Lewis

    Let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed, but I’ll believe it when it happens.

  • Dave_K

    Someone finally noticed that the US has 5% of the world’s people but houses 25% of the world’s prison population… Our current rates of incarceration surpass those in Hitler’s Germany and in Stalin’s Russia. We even surpass incarceration rates in South Africa during apartheid. Legalize and regulate like alcohol in 2016!

  • Svott

    Also when convicted of a felony the person is to lose some constitution rights for life and will be unable to be employed in MANY vocations. So it’s very hard to find a decent job once released from incarceration even if a person want to be self-supporting productive citizen .