#EndTheWarOnDrugs: 5 Policy Changes that Could Get Us Started

The United States has the dishonor of being number one in the world when it comes to prison spending and locking up people.  Now, the crisis of mass incarceration has caught the attention of a coalition of celebrities, civil rights advocates, and faith leaders. 

In a letter to President Obama issued this month, they strongly urge him to continue pursuing and supporting policies that relieve our bloated prison system and promote fair sentencing reforms.  Specifically, the letter mentions the following five policies.  (For definitions of some of the key terms used below, check out this post.)

1. Fair Sentencing Act (“FSA”)

Passed in 2012, this law reduced the sentencing disparities for crack vs. powder cocaine.  This coalition is pushing to have the FSA apply to all inmates who were subject to a 100 to 1 crack/powder disparity in sentencing.  Currently, a quarter of the nation’s prison population is incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses. Rather than expensive lock up, they can be better served in cost-effective programs that treat drug addiction.

2. Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 (“JSV”)

This bipartisan bill attempts to provide judges with more flexibility in sentencing individuals below the mandatory minimum for all federal crimes.  Judges can provide less harsh sentences as long as it would not jeopardize public safety.  Lawmakers know that a one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing doesn’t make sense for public safety.

3. Youth PROMISE Act

Another bipartisan effort to provide communities with the support to invest in violence prevention and intervention programs that will engage parents, schools, social services, law enforcement, the faith community, and advocates.  Endorsed by groups like Human Rights Watch and Justice Policy Institute, it’s a commonsense approach to dealing with youth delinquency by looking at the root causes and implementing best practices.

4. Clemency Review Panel in the Office of the Pardon Attorney

Stories of innocent people or people who were unjustly locked up due to errors in procedure are too commonplace.  In order to address this travesty in our justice system, resources for a clemency review panel could help to reduce these errors that destroy people’s lives and subject the system to expensive lawsuits.

5. Re-entry Programs

Well resourced re-entry programs are key to ending the revolving doors of our prison system.  In order for prisoners to successfully reintegrate into their communities, support for housing, education, employment, health and mental health access, and other forms of transition assistance need to be in place.

Add Your Voice to the Call to #EndTheWarOnDrugs

As is often the case with such policies, each has its challenges and room for improvement.  But all are a step in the right direction to end mass incarceration in the United States.

It's taken us decades to become the world leader in locking people up, and undoing the damage could take just as long.  The question is: would you rather that time be spent building up people and communities or continuing to destroy them?  

We know what our answer is.  Please stand with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the #EndTheWarOnDrugs coalition by adding your name to the petition.

Sign the petition now

Image source: Global Grind