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January 16, 2016

On Sentencing Reform, Bipartisanship Isn't Dead

By Lecia Imbery

Within the first minute and a half of his final State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama called out the need for criminal justice reform. And with good reason. Nearly 1 in 100 American adults is incarcerated. America’s prison population has increased by 500 percent over the past thirty years, to the point where the U.S. now incarcerates more people and a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world. In fact, the U.S. incarceration rate is more than six times the average across developed nations. Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately hurt: black men are six times more likely and Latino men two-and-a-half times more likely to be incarcerated than white men, and over the last several years, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has reported that about of mandatory minimums are imposed on African American and Latino individuals.

The good news is there’s a criminal justice reform bill in Congress that would make several much-needed changes. And, it has bipartisan support in the Senate – a real rarity these days. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123) passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in October with a vote of 15-5. But it can’t become law if it doesn’t come up for a vote in the full Senate. More good news: you can act today to help get move this bill closer to becoming law.

Advocates are joining forces for a call-in week of action this week. Use the number to the right to call your senators and tell them to cosponsor S. 2123 and to urge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Then, share this post and/or use the sample tweets below to spread the word.

Among other reforms, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would eliminate the harsh three-strike mandatory life sentence, reduce federal penalties for some nonviolent drug-related and other crimes, and reduce sentences for inmates convicted of crack cocaine offenses before the law was changed in 2010 to address the extreme disparities in sentencing for crack versus powder cocaine offenses that magnify racial inequalities. It would provide avenues for prison reform to reduce recidivism, allowing prisoners to reduce their sentences by participating in education programs, drug rehabilitation, a prison job or similar activities. It would also address the treatment of youth in the federal system, specifically in the areas of solitary confinement and life without parole sentences for juveniles.

Half of federal prisoners are serving because of drug offenses. But the strict sentences designed as part of the “War on Drugs” are far too long, discriminatory, ineffective and expensive. Although more must be done to overhaul our justice system and address the root causes of the growth in our incarceration rates, especially at a time when nearly half of U.S. children now have at least one parent with a criminal record, this bill in a critical first step.

After you call your senators, take action on social media using #SentencingReform and the resources below created by our friends at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. We can’t afford to waste this rare opportunity (bipartisan support!) to enact true justice.

Sample Tweets:

.@POTUS agrees: It’s time to reform our criminal justice system. Call your senators (1-866-338-5720) + demand support for #SentencingReform.

In his final #SOTU, @POTUS said criminal justice reform is a bipartisan priority in 2016. Let’s get #SentencingReform passed ASAP.

RT if you agree with @POTUS: 2016 should be the year for bipartisan criminal justice reform. #SentencingReform [IMAGE]

Incarceration rates among communities of color are staggering. #S2123 is an important first step toward changing that. #SentencingReform

It’s time to reform our criminal justice system – and #S2123 can help. Make sure your senators (1-866-338-5720) support #SentencingReform!

#S2123 is a bipartisan “smart on crime” approach that senators should support. The time for #SentencingReform is now!

The United States can be “smart on crime” without locking so many people up in prison. We need #SentencingReform – and #S2123 will help.

#SentencingReform has bipartisan support – and that’s a big deal. Read what senators are saying about #S2123: http://1.usa.gov/1XCCPXxb

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