Today, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. With over 2.3 million men and women living behind bars, our imprisonment rate is the highest it’s ever been in U.S. history. And yet, our criminal justice system has failed on every count: public safety, fairness and cost-effectiveness. Across the country, the criminal justice reform conversation is heating up. Each week, we feature our some of the most exciting and relevant news in overincarceration discourse that we’ve spotted from the previous week. Check back weekly for our top picks.
Reducing Prison Populations in the States
As many state legislative sessions wind down, we’ve written up a Legislative Wrap-Up to summarize 2012 developments. Some recent highlights (and lowlights) include:
• An ACLU-sponsored bill to make simple possession of drugs a misdemeanor passed out of committee and will receive a floor vote. The bill has received the support of groups across the political spectrum, including Right on Crime.
• Another bill co-sponsored by the ACLU, which would use evidence-based risk assessment tools to safely release low-risk individuals detained before trial, has also moved from committee to the Senate floor.
• Illinois: The Senate passed a bill that would reinstate “good time credits,” which would allow prisoners to reduce their sentences by exhibiting good behavior and participating in rehabilitative programs.
• Kansas: The House passed a bill that would allow judges to use less expensive treatment programs for small-time drug offenses.
• Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Corbett announced that he wants to pass significant criminal justice reform by the end of June.
• Oklahoma: In less encouraging news, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a reform bill that may, in the end, increase the state’s prison population. It allows prosecutors to veto judicial decisions to shorten defendants’ sentences and creates a secondary system of incarceration for individuals who violate probation and parole violations. Advocates, including the ACLU, have criticized the measure for not doing enough to reduce Oklahoma’s prison population and maybe even making the problem worse.
New York City Stop-and-Frisk
In 2011, the NYPD stopped-and-frisked 700,000 people, nearly all of whom were Black and Latino, often without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. Read the NYCLU’s recently published report on NYPD stop-and-frisk practices and a New York Times editorial.
• The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices have been the subject of much media debate. The NYCLU placed an op-ed in the Daily News rebutting NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly’s defense of the practice and issued a press release demanding reform, not words, from Commissioner Kelly.
• A recent NYCLU settlement ended the stop-and-frisk of livery cab passengers.
Capitol Hill Talks about Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform
In May, the ACLU hosted a panel discussion featuring Republican and Democratic state legislators who discussed their respective states’ successful bipartisan criminal justice reform efforts that both saved money and promoted public safety. Congress can learn from these state examples and pass the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, which would create a bipartisan commission to examine the nation’s criminal justice system and make reform recommendations in sentencing policy, law enforcement, crime prevention, and re-entry. Take Action! Tell the Senate to adopt meaningful criminal justice reform now.