Breaking the Addiction to Incarceration: Weekly Highlights

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.

Alabama: New Sentencing Reform Bill Introduced to Reduce Overcrowding
The Alabama Senate has passed a bill designed to reduce prison overcrowding. S.B. 386 will allow nonviolent criminals to do an alternative program like work release or drug court. About 65 percent of Alabama inmates are serving time for nonviolent offenses.

Colorado: New Senate Bill Would Improve Drug Laws
Senate Bill 163, which enjoys bipartisan cosponsorship, would reduce possession of four grams or less of any Schedule I or II controlled substance, such as marijuana or cocaine, or two grams or less of methamphetamine (Schedule II), from a felony to a misdemeanor. Research by Colorado’s Division of Criminal Justice revealed that of all drug abusers sentenced to prison, 60 percent were convicted of drug possession. The bill will head to the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 28.

Georgia: House Nearly Unanimously Passes Sentencing Reform
The Georgia House adopted House Bill 1176, a top priority for Gov. Nathan Deal, by a 164-1 vote, and the tally may ultimately be unanimous. A key facet of H.B. 1176 would be the creation of new categories of punishment for drug possession crimes, with less severe penalties for those found with small quantities and the most severe penalties available for those possessing large amounts of drugs.

Houston: Crime is Down, and So Is the Cost of Fighting It
Houston's murder rate fell 26 percent in 2011, reaching its lowest level since 1965. More broadly, the city's violent crime rate declined 7 percent in 2011. The jail population has plummeted to about 8,500 from a 2008 level of 12,000. Consequently, Harris County taxpayers no longer must pony up $31 million to send overflow inmates to jails as far away as Louisiana.

Intelligence2 Debate: Is It Time to End the War on Drugs?
Watch a thorough two-hour debate on the merits of the American policy of drug prohibition, commonly dubbed the “War on Drugs.” The debate, hosted by Google+ and Intelligence2, features Colombian President Juan Santos, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Sir Richard Branson, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, former President of Brazil Fernando Cardoso and many more.

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