While in Baltimore for their annual gathering, the National Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution calling for dramatic changes to the U.S. criminal justice system, including a sizeable reduction in the number of nonviolent offenders behind bars and the racial disparities prevalent among drug offenders.
“The war on drugs – declared 40 years ago – has been the principal driver of mass incarceration in America,” according to the resolution.
The mayors noted that the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country. About 2.4 million Americans are in prison or jail; that means one in every 100 residents is behind bars. Further, approximately 500,000 Americans are in jail for drug law violations, a disproportionate number of them Black.
In their resolution, the mayors opposed mandatory minimum sentencing at both the state and federal levels and urged for fair and effective sentencing policies, especially for non-violent offenders, as well as comprehensive post-incarceration re-entry programs.
“The costs to our federal, state, and local governments of unjust and ineffective criminal justice policies continue to grow, yet a comprehensive evaluation of the U.S. criminal justice system has not been undertaken since 1967,” according to the document.
Because the last official assessment of the system was decades ago; the mayors said they endorsed the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2011 proposed legislation introduced by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). That proposed legislation would authorize a comprehensive 18-month review of the criminal justice system and recommend reforms.
The commission would be expected to put forward criminal code changes to reduce incarceration, reform U.S. drug policy, eliminate arrest and sentencing disparities and expand access to treatment and re-entry centers.
“A national criminal justice commission will help identify cost-effective solutions for improving public safety, breaking the cycle of addiction, and keeping families together,” Santa Fe, N.M. Mayor David Coss, who offered the resolution, told Minority News. “We simply cannot afford to continue wasting taxpayer money on failed criminal justice policies when there are less expensive, more humane, and more effective ways to deal with drugs and crime.”