November 30, 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.
New York Magazine’s most recent cover story is an extensive and vivid feature on Americans’ shifting attitudes toward drug laws. Here’s an excerpt: “The prohibition on drugs did not begin as neatly as the prohibition on alcohol once did, with a constitutional amendment, and it is unlikely to end neatly, with an act of a legislature or a new international treaty. Nor is the war on drugs likely to end with something that looks exactly like a victory. What is happening instead is more complicated and human: Without really acknowledging it, we are beginning to experiment with a negotiated surrender.”
That’s the title of a new 128-page report from Families Against Mandatory Minimums and Human Rights Watch that examines the federal system of compassionate release. In 1984, Congress authorized the Bureau of Prisons to release very old or infirm prisoners—people in the late stages of a terminal illness, for example, or aged people who can no longer dress themselves. Such prisoners can only be released if the BOP asks a federal court to consider a particular case, but the BOP almost never makes such requests—since 1992, the BOP has averaged annually only two dozen motions to the courts for early release, out of a prison population that now exceeds 218,000.
Beyond Bars partnered with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition to produce “Safekeepers,” a video series profiling law enforcement officials who've been on the front lines of the drug war and mass incarceration. The men and women interviewed are police officers, prosecutors and judges whose personal experiences with the drug war have led them to speak out for change.
Arrests of youths under age 18 in California fell by 20 percent from 2010 to 2011, and researchers at the Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice identified marijuana decriminalization as the largest contributor to the sharp decline.Furthermore, the study found that a significant decline in youth incarceration, probation and parole was accompanied by a decline in youth crime. You can read CJCJ’s report here.
Between 2005 and 2011, Texas certified as adults 1,292 teens as young as 14, sending them to adult jails and prisons. A man who spent 27 years in Texas prison talks about the many reasons adult prisons are no place for juveniles, including that they lack the necessary resources to educate and rehabilitate traumatized youth, and that youth are unequipped to protect themselves from violence and abuse.