Target: U.S. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Goal: Support prison and sentencing reform that will end racially imbalanced mass incarceration.
A bipartisan bill on prison reform has brought the U.S. Senate together in agreement for much needed changes in America’s flawed criminal justice system. The landmark bill demonstrates lawmakers’ recognition that the tough mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenses instilled during the 1980s and 1990s was both ineffective and disproportionately targeted communities of color. Today, there are more people locked up for drug offenses than there were in 1980 for all offenses combined. The sentencing reform will be a step toward solving America’s overcrowded jails and will amend drug laws that cause institutionalized racism.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is being hailed as the best indication that the “tough on crime” movement is over. This style of sentencing has led to mass incarceration and abuses those at the bottom of society. Since “tough on crime’s” implementation, African Americans have made up almost half of those arrested for drug offenses despite making up only 12 percent of drug users. The taxpayer is also affected, as the average cost of the prison system totals $39 billion per year according to a 2012 Vera Institute of Justice study. Politicians have been outspoken about sentencing flaws, yet little has been done about it until now.
The reform calls for reducing the disproportionate punishments of those sentenced for crack cocaine versus those given shorter sentences for powder cocaine. It would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for those who’ve committed three drug crimes from life without parole to 25 years, and for two drug crime offenses, from 20-years to 15-years. It proposes credits toward early release for nonviolent prisoners who graduate from classes and drug treatment programs and limits solitary confinement for juveniles.
The bill would only apply to federal prisons, leaving out the larger population of those incarcerated in jails and state facilities. However, it changes the way lawmakers view and discuss sentencing, which can carry over to America’s prison system as a whole.
The bill is the best criminal justice policy reform the nation has seen from the Senate. It’s a first step toward diminishing harsh minimum sentencing and other injustices in the prison system, and will relieve financial burdens on the taxpayer. Urge the Senate to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act so that this legislation can move forward and bring about real change.
Dear Senator McConnell,
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a much-needed first step in prison reform. Mass incarceration has led to profound financial and societal costs while showing no reduction in crime. The reform will offer relief to people of color, low-income families, and non-violent, low-risk offenders who’ve been targeted by the war on drugs and mandatory minimums.
The United States houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners despite making up only five percent of the world’s population. It’s imprisoned a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. Studies and statistics on the American prison system indicate deep flaws, showing increases in incarceration without any decreases in crime.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act has already gained bipartisan support and is being applauded by prison reform and human rights activists. I urge you to please pass this legislation to ensure a more just and fair sentencing system.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Barnellbe