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.
Not everyone is treated equally in the criminal justice system. Here are the stories of three activists – Lavette Mayes, Jason Hernandez, and Johnny Perez – whose experiences show the toll that an abusive and unjust criminal system takes on individuals, families, and communities.
The Truth About Bail: It Doesn't Work
After an arrest — wrongful or not — a person’s ability to leave jail and return home to fight the charges depends on money. That's because, in most states, people are required to pay cash bail. This is despite the fact that they are presumed innocent and have not been convicted of a crime.
Reentry Shouldn't Last A Lifetime
People with arrest and conviction records are routinely blocked from getting jobs, housing, and educational opportunities by federal, state, and local legal restrictions because of these records. Around the country, there are nearly 50,000 such legal restrictions.