NAACP Applauds Proposed New DOJ Guidelines that Seek to Reduce Mandatory Minimums

(Washington, D.C) – The NAACP strongly commends Attorney General Eric Holder for outlining new guidelines for prosecutors that address inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system while seeking to reduce the soaring federal prison population as part of the Department of Justice’s Smart on Crime Initiative.

“Today is the beginning of the end of the ‘one size fits all’ prison sentence in America,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “We applaud Attorney General Holder’s ambitious plan to make our sentencing system smarter and our communities safer. When the punishment does not fit the crime, we all lose.”

Holder called for a reduction in mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug offenders in an effort address disparities and curb a vicious cycle of criminality and incarceration that traps too many Americans in prison and weakens communities.

“The NAACP has long advocated for an end to mandatory minimum sentences and we are encouraged by Attorney General Holder’s stance today,” stated Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and Sr. Vice President for Policy and Advocacy. “We will continue to work with the Department of Justice to implement these crucial new guidelines; with members of Congress on the Smarter Sentencing Act; and with the many state governments across the country that have already adopted ‘smart on crime’ policies.”

The United States has seen a 500% increase in the number of inmates in federal custody over the last 30 years,  due in large part to misguided policies increasing the number and length of certain federal mandatory sentences, which force judges to impose a “one-size-fits-all” sentence.

As the prison population has grown, so have racial disparities. More than 60% of the people in prison are racial and ethnic minorities. For African American males in their thirties, one in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day.

"Mandatory minimum sentences undermine our criminal justice system. They have lead to mass incarceration and have not made our communities any safer," said Dr. Niaz Kasravi, Criminal Justice Director of the NAACP. "We applaud Attorney General Holder for recognizing that longer and harsher sentences are not the key to public safety and for issuing guidelines that will help restore balance to our system of justice.
                         
The Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced recently in the United States Senate, would reduce the federal prison population by decreasing the number of non-violent offenders who are given unnecessarily harsh and lengthy prison sentences by giving judges more discretion when imposing sentences; applying current law to people who were convicted under the older, harsher law; and increasing individualized review for certain drug sentences.

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Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities.  You can read more about the NAACP’s work and our five “Game Changer” issue areas here.

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