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Breaking the Addiction to Incarceration: Weekly Highlights

Alex Stamm,
ACLU Center for Justice
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March 5, 2012

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.

ACLU, Religious Organizations Call for Governors to Say No to CCA Proposal
Two weeks ago, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the country, sent a letter to 48 state governors in which it offered to buy state-run prisons on the condition that the facilities remain open and 90 percent full for 20 years. CCA’s letter has drawn strong objection from private prison opponents, for whom the letter underscores the misplaced motivations of private prison companies. This week, several organizations sent letters to the governors urging them to decline CCA’s offer: one from the ACLU and 26 other organization, another from a coalition of religious organizations, and a third from the Presbyterian Church.

In Atlanta, African-Americans Account for 93 Percent of Marijuana Arrests
A recent investigation by an Atlanta local news station found that almost everybody arrested in Atlanta for marijuana possession is African-American. Because we know that black people actually use marijuana at lower rates that white people (see this 2007 HHS survey, for example), this stark statistic tells the story of police and prosecutors who investigate and charge the African-American community more aggressively than others. The problem is larger than Atlanta. A Department of Justice study found that black and Hispanic motorists are pulled over at higher rates than white motorists. 87 percent of stop-and-frisks in Brooklyn, New York, are people of color. It’s no secret that America’s criminal justice system has a racial bias, and that problem starts with police behavior.

Maryland Mulls Misdemeanor Reform
Earlier this year, Maryland’s Supreme Court ruled that defendants must be appointed counsel at bail hearings. In reaction, Maryland lawmakers are considering a bill that will send fewer misdemeanants to jail. The Washington Post reports that under legislation scheduled for votes this week, people would be less likely to be hauled directly to jail for smoking marijuana, shoplifting, destroying property or committing one of a series of other misdemeanors.

Christie Calls for Drug Treatment
New Jersey lawmakers in both chambers have introduced bills that would make drug abuse treatment mandatory if a qualifying offender is determined to have a problem with substance abuse. The bills have the support of Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who also supports yearlong drug treatment for 1,000 to 1,500 low-level offenders now in prison. Christie framed the issue as a moral one: “Budgets come and go. Taxes go up and down. But saving lives . . . that lasts forever.”

Study Finds that California’s Three-Strikes Law Isn’t Worth Its Costs
A new study written by Robert Parker, director of the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies at UC Riverside, concludes that California’s controversial and costly three-strikes law should be repealed. Parker found that the law has caused the state’s prison population to balloon but hasn’t made a dent in the crime rate. Said Parker, “If this very expensive policy isn’t really impacting crime, what are we doing?”

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