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Breaking the Addiction to Incarceration: Weekly Highlights

Rebecca McCray,
Managing Editor,
American Civil Liberties Union
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November 4, 2011

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.

New ACLU Report on Dangers of Private Prisons
This week, the ACLU National Prison Project released Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration, which provides a comprehensive analysis of the destructive impact of prison privatization. As the report underscores, now is the time for serious criminal justice reform, not privatization schemes.

  • Read the report, along with the press release and a blog post by author David Shapiro. Shapiro also penned this op-ed for
  • Hear about our work to improve the horrific conditions at the privately-owned Idaho Correctional Center in this CNBC documentary about the business of for-profit prisons that aired last month.
  • Read our blog series exploring the connected issues of private prisons, immigration detention and mass incarceration.
  • Watch ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero describe our work to fight the widespread and rampant abuse of immigration detainees, many of whom are held in private prisons, in this episode of PBS Frontline and read a Los Angeles Times story about our lawsuit on behalf of some of the victims.
  • Visit our interactive map documenting this widespread abuse.

Senate Drops the Ball on Crime Commission Amendment
Despite our efforts, the Senate failed to adopt (by 3 votes) an important amendment last month that would have created a bipartisan commission to study our criminal justice system and suggest reforms. On Tuesday, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) issued a harsh recrimination of Senate Republicans for this failure. This piece in the Atlantic highlights the ACLU’s support of the proposal, and you can read Senator Webb’s statement here. Read ACLU Legislative Counsel Jennifer Bellamy’s blog about the amendment.

Retroactive Reduction in Sentencing Disparities
Years of ACLU advocacy to eliminate the crack-cocaine sentencing disparity paid off last year with the passage of the federal Fair Sentencing Act. Retroactive application of the new guidelines began this week, and now ACLU client Hamedah Hasan and more than 12,000 others unfairly sentenced under the old guidelines will have the opportunity to have their sentences for crack cocaine offenses reviewed by a federal judge and possibly reduced. Listen to ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Jesselyn McCurdy discuss the story in this NPR piece, which aired this week.

Fighting Mandatory Drug Testing
The ACLU has been leading the charge to challenge a disturbing national trend: mandatory drug testing of public college students and the poor. The ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project and ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed suit in Missouri to arguing that Linn State Technical College’s drug testing of all students violated the Fourth Amendment. Taking swift action, a federal district court judge granted a preliminary injunction to temporarily halt the unconstitutional policy. Read this blog post about the victory, and this story from the AP. The ACLU of Florida filed suit challenging the state’s forced drug testing of applicants for temporary cash assistance (TANF). Last week, a judge in Florida has halted enforcement of this unconstitutional policy. Read ACLU of Florida’s Maria Kayanan’s blog post about the victory and the press release. Read Rachel Bloom’s blog post about the drug testing trend and further coverage in the New York Times.

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