NAACP IS ENCOURAGED BY BI-PARTISAN SUPPORT FOR CALL TO ENACT GENUINE SENTENCING REFORM
The move to amend current criminal justice law – to change who we lock up, for which offenses, and for how long – is gaining momentum. Bi-partisan bills have been introduced in both the Senate (S. 2123, the “Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015) and the House of Representatives (H.R. 3713, the “Sentencing Reform Act of 2015”). Both bills have bi-partisan co-sponsors and support, and both bills have been approved of by the respective committees of jurisdiction and are awaiting floor action in the House and the Senate.
The current bicameral, bipartisan support for sentencing reform presents us with a unique opportunity to meaningfully reform a significant aspect of our broken criminal justice system. We need to seize this opportunity and enact aggressive reforms based on what has been proven effective, what we know has lead to the problems with which we are faced today, and what we know in our hearts and minds is fair, judicious, and transforming. Due largely to the recklessness of mandatory minimum sentences enacted decades ago, too many people are being sent to prison when other alternatives would be more appropriate and effective, and there is an unacceptable racial disparity among the men and women who are imprisoned. Over the last 30 years, there has been a 500% increase in incarceration; almost 60% of the people in prison or jail right now are racial or ethnic minorities, while we comprise just over 27% of the national population.
S. 2123 / H.R. 3713 marks a good start, yet more can, and should be done to reform the sentencing policies of our nation. This legislation must be seen as a beginning, not the full cure or the end of the ills which are pervasive in our system. We must work with Congress, the Administration, and other interested parties to include additional sentencing reforms, including:
- The increased use of evidence-based sentencing alternatives, including drug, Veteran, and mental health courts;
- Reducing recidivism through educational and job training opportunities for prisoners while they are incarcerated (this includes restoring Pell grant eligibility to prisoners);
- A concentration on using prison space for career or violent criminals;
- The elimination of all mandatory minimum sentences, and an increase in judicial discretion; and
- In depth reports to Congress by the U.S. Department of Justice on the extent to which reforms have addressed both over-incarceration and racial disparities.
We as a nation can, and must, do better. We owe it to our youth, our families, our communities, and our nation to enact meaningful sentencing reform.