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Activists Guide Congress on Criminal Justice Reform

A legion of the drug war’s opposing forces have challenged the congressional powers that be to implement an effective level of reform to criminal justice.

In a recent letter to U.S. Senate Chairman Charles Grassley and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy, a band of 37 civil and human rights organizations, including the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance, pointed out specific legislation that should be included in federal efforts to reform criminal justice policies.

The consensus among these American watchdogs is that for legislation to hold any weight in the realm of true reform, it is absolutely crucial for Congress to address issues within the federal prison system, especially “dangerous overcrowding, unsustainable costs, and unwarranted racial disparities.” The letter provides legislators with a “Statement of Principles” that the groups believe are essential for the achievement of broad-scale reform that leads to fewer incarcerations and the release of non-violent prisoners.

Among these principles comes the necessity to “restore proportionality to drug sentencing” through the reduction of mandatory sentences, as well as four other key points, including “promote and adequately fund recidivism reduction and reentry programming,” “make sentencing reductions retroactive,” “expand BOP’s Compassionate Release Program” and “expand time credits for good behavior.”

This issue is predicted to be a hot, bipartisan topic in 2015, according to a press release from the Drug Policy Alliance. But it will be vital for lawmakers to get to the source of the wound and avoid simply applying a wet Band-Aid. “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 with DPA’s Office of National Affairs. “It’s important that legislation doesn’t just paper over the cracks.”

The letter is expected to be received by Senate Chair Chuck Grassley with a certain level of enthusiasm. The DPA’s release claims the lawmaker has indicated a desire to focus on the issue of criminal justice reform this year. Grassley recently stated, “I’ve expressed in the committee, maybe even on the floor, concern about inequitable sentencing. 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.”

In addition to encouraging comments from the Obama Administration over their willingness to address sentencing reform, several Republican lawmakers have come forward with proposals aimed at fixing the problem. With Democrats and Republicans now working together on this issue, the hope is that an end to mass incarceration may be on the horizon.

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