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House Approves Comprehensive Review of U.S. Criminal Justice System

July 28, 2010

On July 28, the House passed the National Criminal Justice Commission Act, a bill that would create a national commission to examine and reshape the United States’ criminal justice system.  FCNL supports this bill, which would lead to reforms in the prison system that would focus on public safety, address the racial disparity in incarceration, and restore rehabilitated offenders to society.

At FCNL, we believe that the criminal justice system must be transformed in order to return rehabilitated offenders to society with the restoration of their full rights and obligations. We recognize that incarceration of violent and destructive individuals may be necessary to protect society. However, we believe that in the United States incarceration is severely over-used as a response to crime, and we urge the government to examine and implement programs offering prevention, education, treatment, and rehabilitation.

The U.S. prison population has skyrocketed over the past two decades. The United States has only 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population. In total, 7.3 million people in this country are incarcerated, on probation, or on parole. The U.S. leads the world in incarceration of its citizens. This legislation would address the rising incarceration rate by examining and re-focusing incarceration policies on crimes that threaten public safety.

This bill also calls on the Commission to make recommendations about the nation’s drug laws, which contribute heavily to over-incarceration, and to assess meaningful re-entry programs for ex-offenders. Incarceration based on drug offenses has increased sharply in the past three decades. Moreover, African Americans account for only 14 percent of monthly drug users, but they comprise 74 percent of the drug users sentenced to prison. Racial discrepancies exist throughout the criminal justice system; one in eight African American young men is in prison or jail on any given day. By identifying reforms in drug laws and recommending rehabilitation programs, this legislation would take important strides in addressing the disproportionate impact that the current prison system has on minority communities.

Now, it is time to build on the momentum from the House to pass this bill in the Senate and send it to President Obama’s desk!  Senator Jim Webb (VA) is the primary sponsor and the bill has already passed out of committee.

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