Criminal Justice System
The United States has the largest prison population of any developed country in the world. A disproportionate number of people in the nation’s prisons and jails are low-income, undereducated, low-level, nonviolent people of color with drug convictions. Our system of mass incarceration is due almost entirely to the War on Drugs and its disproportionate focus on low-income, people of color. The system must be reformed so that it is no longer racially and ethnically discriminatory and incorporates more alternatives to incarceration.
June 4, 2010 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
According to a new study by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), African Americans are disproportionately excluded from jury service in the South, especially in criminal trials and death penalty cases.
June 2, 2010 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
In a 5-4 decision yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court dramatically reinterpreted its landmark Miranda decision by requiring criminal suspects to invoke their right to remain silent with a clear, explicit statement.
May 18, 2010 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
The U.S. Supreme Court held yesterday (6-3) that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment does not permit the imposition of a life sentence without the possibility of parole for juveniles who commit non-homicide offenses.
May 14, 2010 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
The U.S. Sentencing Commission recently adopted changes to the federal sentencing guidelines to permit crimes in which the victim is intentionally selected on the basis of gender identity to be eligible for sentencing enhancements.
April 27, 2010 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Juvenile justice advocates recently told the House Education and Labor Committee that reauthorization of the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) must close loopholes that have allowed some states to treat juvenile offenders like adults.
March 29, 2010 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, recently testified before the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties and urged Congress to pass the Democracy Restoration Act.
January 22, 2010 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill with substantial bipartisan support yesterday to establish a national commission that will undertake a comprehensive review and recommend key reforms to all areas of the criminal justice system.
The commission's mandate under the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010 is to recommend ways to reduce incarceration rates, reform our nation's drug laws, identify meaningful prisoner re-entry programs, contain costs, improve treatment for the mentally ill, and restore public confidence in the system. After 18 months the 14-member commission would be required to submit its conclusions and recommendations to Congress and the president.
December 14, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
The American Bar Association, American Civil Liberties Union, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Drug Policy Alliance, and The Sentencing Project are urging Congress to pass legislation that would restore the right to vote in federal elections to formerly incarcerated citizens.
November 9, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two separate cases to determine whether sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole for non-homicide crimes violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Sullivan v. Florida is the case of Joe Sullivan, who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole 20 years ago at the age of 13. Graham v. Florida is the case of Terrance Jamar Graham, who violated parole at age 17 and was sentenced, without a trial, to life without parole. Both cases took place in Florida, one of only six states that have imprisoned juveniles for life without parole for non-homicide offenses.
Many civil rights groups, academics, and social scientists have spoken out against these sentencing practices. Charles Ogletree — who joined in a brief submitted by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., in support of Graham and Sullivan — said that the Court should apply the same logic to these case it used to decide Roper v. Simmons, which struck down capital punishment for minors as unconstitutional.
"The same transient qualities of adolescence that the Court relied upon in Roper make it similarly inappropriate to subject a teenager to a permanent punishment of life in prison without parole. It is cruel and inaccurate, as the Court has recognized, to pass a final and irreversible judgment on a person whose character is still forming and undergoing significant changes," Ogletree said.
October 23, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a bill introduced by Sen. Jim Webb, D. Va., that would establish a bipartisan commission to examine the nation's criminal justice system and figure out how to make it more effective and fair.
The commission would be tasked with identifying the system's strengths and weaknesses and making recommendations to Congress about reducing the incarceration rate, lowering crime rates, restructuring our approach to drug policy, improving the treatment of mental illnesses, and other reforms.
More Information On
Social Justice Brief: A Social Work Perspective on Drug Policy Reform - National Association of Social Workers
Reclaiming Our Rights: Reflections on Racial Profiling in a Post-9/11 America - Rights Working Group (2011)
The Changing Racial Dynamics of the War on Drugs - The Sentencing Project
A 25-Year Quagmire: The War on Drugs and Its Impact on American Society - The Sentencing Project
Critical Condition: African American Youth in the Justice System (pdf) - Campaign for Youth Justice
In The News
Recent news clips on this issue.