Join the Movement to End Mass Incarceration

In her bestselling book The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander likened the U.S. criminal justice system to the Jim Crow caste system of the U.S. South, in which a class of Americans are subject to a basic political, economic, and judicial system of legalized discrimination.  Her powerful analysis inspired a new look at the impact of the mass incarceration of African-American men and people of color on communities of color, causing many lawmakers, sociologists, and activists to conclude that “mass incarceration in the United States…is a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of social control.”  Now, there is a growing consensus that something must be done to bring balance to our criminal justice system.

The statistics tell the story and highlight the challenge before us.  According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, the USA has the highest incarceration rate of any nation in the world (794 per 100,000).  The U.S. prison population has quadrupled since 1980, increasing from approximately 500,000 to 2.2 million in 2013.  President Barack Obama has taken action to address mass incarceration, helping to shepherd through Congress and sign into lawlegislation that reduced the sentencing disparity between possession of crack and powder cocaine.  In a recent speech to the NAACP, President Obama called for lowering long mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses; investing in alternatives to prisons, like drug courts and treatment and probation programs; and rewarding offenders with reduced sentences if they complete programs that make them less likely to re-offend.  The President has also advocated for “Ban the Box” on job applications for state, federal, and private employment to give ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society a fair chance to reenter society by getting and holding good jobs.  Major corporations like Target and Wal-Mart have removed the criminal history box from their job applications.  Amidst the startling statistics, there are glimmers of hope.

The United States Senate is now joining the effort.  On October 1, Senator Charles Grassley introduced S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which would permit a court to reduce the mandatory minimum prison term imposed on certain non-violent defendants convicted of a high-level first-time or low-level repeat drug offense.  It would also permit a court to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum for certain non-violent, cooperative drug defendants with a limited criminal history.  The bill would reduce the enhanced mandatory minimum prison terms associated with high-level repeat drug offenses and those where a firearm was present.   It would improve programs for non-violent elderly offenders and pre/post release programs for certain juvenile offenders.

The Global Justice Institute and Metropolitan Community Churches join with all those who seek to address the problem of mass incarceration.  We encourage our lawmakers to take affirmative steps to reduce mandatory minimum prison terms for nonviolent defendants, invest in programs that help offenders become less likely to re-offend, and fund and support early childhood development and juvenile justice community-based interventions.

Here Are Some Actions You Can Take to Change U.S. Policy Toward the Incarcerated

  • Please contact your Senator today to urge them to SUPPORT S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015:
    • Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 1-800-270-0309 and ask for your Senator.
    • When you are connected to your member’s office these are things that you might say:  I want Senator ___________ to know that it is now time to reform our criminal justice system by ending mass incarceration.  Please support reducing the mandatory minimum terms for nonviolent defendants convicted of drug offenses and programs that encourage early release for good behavior.  Please support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.
  • Participate in the Grassroots Faith Organizing Call on 2 December at 3pm (eastern) with Senator Durbin.  We will gear everyone up for a national call-in day (that will take place on 3 December) to support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. On Thursday, December 3rd in conjunction with the Call-in Day, we will participate with civil rights and criminal justice advocacy groups on a lobby day in support of SRCA. Contact Bill Medford (faith organizer) for the call in information.
  • Come to Washington, DC on 3 December and Lobby Congress. Organizers hope to have 50 people. The ACLU and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights are helping to fund travel for those from target states.  They will also set up the visits with Members of Congress and book the travel and hotel stay.  Contact Bill Medford (faith organizer) to express your interest.
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This statement was prepared by the Public Policy Team of Metropolitan Community Churches and the Global Justice Institute (Rev. Elder Pat Bumgardner, Chair).