Imprisonment is a brutal and costly response to crime that traumatizes incarcerated people and hurts families and communities. It should be the last option, not the first. Yet the U.S. incarcerates more people, in both absolute numbers and per capita, than any other nation in the world. For the last four decades, this country has relentlessly expanded the size of our criminal justice system, needlessly throwing away too many lives and wasting trillions of taxpayer dollars.
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
We are working in all 50 states for reforms to usher in a new era of justice in America – and we’re already implementing solutions:
Sentencing Reform: We are working to reduce both the number of people entering jails and prisons and the extreme laws and policies that drive extraordinarily long prison terms.
Bail Reform: We’re overhauling the unjust and for-profit bail system that strips people of their rights, targets poor people and people of color, and hurts families and communities.
Prosecutorial Reform: Prosecutors across the country work towards convictions, not justice. We’re challenging prosecutorial abuse in the courts and legislatures and through voter education.
Parole Reform: We are working to ensure systems are fair, respect people’s rights, and promote safety and success for those returning to their communities.
Reentry: We are working to end the collateral consequences that are imposed on people living with a criminal record.
Why we need to end mass incarceration
- Racial disparities are 6 to 1At the end of 2014, the imprisonment rate among Black men was nearly six times that of white men. And the rate for Black women was double that of white women.
- The world’s prison capitalSince 1970 our incarcerated population has increased by 700 percent to 2.3 million people in jail and prison today, far outpacing population growth and crime. The United States spends over $80 billion on incarceration each year.
- 50,000 barriers to successEach year 600,000 people nationwide return from prison to immense challenges – including nearly 50,000 federal, state and local legal restrictions that make it difficult to reintegrate back into society.
Selling Off Our Freedom: How Insurance Corporations Have Taken Over Our Bail System
Every year in the United States, millions of people are forced to pay cash bail after their arrest or face incarceration before trial. This is despite the fact that they are presumed innocent and have not been convicted of a crime. The financial burden of this fee harms individuals, it harms families, and it disproportionately affects Black and low-income communities. The only winner is the bottom line of big for-profit businesses.
End the War on Drugs
Over the last 40 years, we've spent trillions of dollars enforcing senseless drug laws. Drug use has not declined, while millions of people – disproportionately poor people and people of color – have been swept into a net of correctional control that is difficult to escape and derails lives. Many have been arrested just for having a small amount of drugs. Better solutions exist.
Make the Sentence Fit the Crime
The hallmark of a legitimate justice system is fairness. And yet, today in America, hundreds of thousands of people are serving decades-long prison sentences that are far out of proportion to their crimes. The culprit? Extreme sentencing laws and mandatory minimum laws that strip judges of their ability to make the sentence actually fit the crime. It's time to change these laws.
Incentivize Smart Practices
Some people and corporations – such as private companies that get larger payments from the state the longer they hold someone – have a vested interest in the status quo and are working to thwart smart reforms that could reduce incarceration. We need to incentivize smart and fair practices like keeping people in the community when they don't pose a threat.
Eliminate Unnecessary Incarceration
Hundreds of thousands of people are locked up not based on any dangerous behavior, but because they could not pay off a fine or were convicted of a nonviolent drug or property crime. Some behind bars are so frail because of old age or illness that they can barely walk. We need to rethink the costly practice of keeping these people behind bars.
Invest in Better Systems
Problems like mental illness, substance use disorders, and homelessness are more appropriately addressed outside the criminal justice system altogether. Services like drug treatment and affordable housing cost less and can have a better record of success. It's time we got serious about pulling our money out of incarceration and putting it into systems that foster healthy communities.