ACLU Statement on Second Chance Month

April 3, 2023 10:00 am

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WASHINGTON — April is Second Chance Month, bringing awareness to the barriers to re-entry that formerly incarcerated people face when returning to our communities, and the scarcity of second chances through clemency for people who are currently incarcerated.

The failed war on drugs has fueled mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal legal system. One in five people behind bars is in local, state, or federal custody for a drug offense. An estimated 79 million Americans have a criminal record.

As Second Chance Month begins, Cynthia W. Roseberry, the acting director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Justice Division, issued the following statement:

“The overwhelming majority of people who are incarcerated return to their communities, often after needlessly long sentences. Their incarceration has ripple effects — adversely impacting the individual, their families, and our communities. A criminal record can haunt a person for the rest of their lives — posing barriers to housing, employment, education, public benefits, and voting in many states. This in turn, destabilizes entire families and communities.

“During Second Chance Month, we focus on the second chance due to a person who is formerly incarcerated. We rarely talk about how, as a nation, we also need a second chance to make amends for the harmful policies we’ve pursued.

“Policies like the war on drugs have devastated generations of families and communities by fueling mass incarceration and racially-biased law enforcement, normalizing harsh sentences and upholding a culture of punishment.

“As a nation, we aren’t bound to our worst policy decisions. We are capable of rectifying them, moved by the better angels of our nature. This Second Chance Month, we are calling on elected leaders — from President Biden to state governors — to embrace clemency and join the ACLU’s Redemption Campaign.

“Through the power of clemency, we can forcefully confront mass incarceration and racial injustice by granting categorical commutations to those who are unjustifiably imprisoned: people convicted of drug distribution and possession; people incarcerated over minor probation or parole violations; elderly incarcerated people; and people still imprisoned for acts that would merit shorter sentences based on current law.”

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Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release