Because Congress and the Obama Administration failed to act, deep automatic spending cuts known as sequestration are beginning to take effect. While these cuts could have harmful consequences for our criminal justice system, they also present an opportunity for reform.
Given limited resources, Congress should take steps to reduce the number of people incarcerated in our federal prisons while ensuring public safety. For example, we should prioritize drug treatment and job training so that individuals released from prison can stay clean and find meaningful work. For elderly individuals who are a drain on the system and no longer dangerous, we should expand compassionate release. We should extend time credits for good behavior and reform sentencing laws to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Each of these steps would save money and help keep our communities safe.
Tell your Member of Congress to get "smart on crime."
The Sentencing Project found in a recent report co-authored with Grassroots Leadership that Texas’ state jail population has declined by 15 percent from 2007 to 2012 from over 13,800 individuals to just over 11,700 in 2012.
The decline in the state jail population provides Texas lawmakers with an opportunity to close prison facilities including the Dawson State Jail. The report recommends that state appropriators zero out funding for the Dawson State Jail, and sell the property. This step would save the state money in contracting costs and could provide revenue for other pressing criminal justice needs.
Take action by asking your state lawmaker to close the Dawson State Jail.
Legislation is pending in New Hampshire that would prohibit the transfer of inmates to private prisons operated by for-profit institutions and ends prison privatization upon the expiration of current contracts.
Legislation has been introduced in California that offers a second chance for persons with felony convictions. Unemployment for persons with felony convictions is a serious problem that thousands of sentenced prisoners released from California prisons each year and the more than 398,000 persons under community supervision. States like Massachusetts, Connecticut, Minnesota and Hawaii have adopted measures to strengthen job opportunities for
persons with felony convictions.
In Connecticut persons convicted of possessing drugs within 1,500 feet of an elementary, secondary school or licensed child day care center receive a two-year mandatory minimum sentence. While we should all be concerned about drug-selling activity to children, these laws are overly broad and in many cases apply to offenses where no children are involved. Proposed Bill 6295 would modify the size of these zones from 1,500 to 200 feet in jurisdictions with a population of 60,000 persons or more, impacting 14.54% of all drug offenses.
In 2008, the Connecticut Legislature took a step in the right direction when it authorized the request of racial and ethnic impact statements for bills passed successfully out of committee that may impact the state’s correctional population, but these have been requested infrequently. The Sentencing Project encourages members of the relevant committees to request racial and ethnic impact statements during the 2013 Legislative Session.
Legislation pending in Congress would restore voting rights in federal elections to persons living in the community with prior felony convictions. Voting rights are among our most cherished freedoms and are critical to the health of our democracy.
Urge your Member of Congress to cosponsor the Voter Empowerment Act, H.R. 12, which would restore voting rights in federal elections to individuals with prior felony convictions.
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws -- which require automatic prison sentences, regardless of the circumstances of the case -- drive our skyrocketing incarceration rates and result in racial disparities. Urge your elected representatives in Congress to eliminate “one size fits all" mandatory minimum sentences that allow little consideration for individual characteristics and result in unfair sentences, particularly for people of color.
The Sentencing Project applauded the introduction of House Bill 47 in Kentucky. The measure would authorize expungement relief under specified circumstances for persons convicted of class D felony offenses five years after conviction or probation.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics there are more than 20,000 individuals incarcerated in Kentucky prisons, and more than 60,000 are supervised on probation or parole. Nationally, the prison population has skyrocketed 600% over the last forty years and the number of Americans with felony convictions has grown to 19.8 million adults, or 8.6% of the adult population.
Please email Nicole D. Porter at nporter [a] sentencingproject [.] org to learn how to support expungement relief in Kentucky or enter your zip code below to send a personal letter to your Kentucky State Senator. Find The Sentencing Project's support letter here.
The Sentencing Project and a group of national and state organizations have sent a letter to the Michigan House of Representative's Appropriations Committee urging lawmakers to vote against efforts to reintroduce private prisons. Michigan previously contracted with a private prison company, but ended the contract in 2005 after the facility was found to cost more than most of the state's publicly operated prisons, while not providing the contractually required levels of service. Similar results have been found in studies looking at prison privatzation on both the federal and state level.
In recent years Michigan has enacted policies that have reduced its prison population and closed a significant number of prisons. At the same time, the state's violent and property crime rates decreased by 13 and 8 percent, respectively. These reforms are an effective way for lawmakers to reduce costs without undermining public safety, and the state should build off of these successes rather than return to the failed policies of the past.
Please email Cody Mason at firstname.lastname@example.org to add your organization’s name to the group sign on letter or enter your zip code below to send a personal letter to your Michigan State Representative.
House Bill 708 was also introduced by Delegate Valentino-Smith and cross-filed in the Senate as Senate Bill 678sponsored by Senator Forehand.This measure expands expungement relief to youth whose cases are transferred from adult court to juvenile court.The bill as introduced enables persons to submit expungement petitions. Please ask your legislator to support House Bill 708.
House Bill 709 was introduced by Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith and cross-filed in the Senate as Senate Bill 679 sponsored by Senator Forehand. The bill authorizes criminal justice policy impact statements under certain circumstances.The measure specifies the information to be included such as the potential impact of proposed criminal justice policies on ethnic and racial minorities, the creation of new criminal offenses or the altering of existing criminal offenses, potential impact on existing state and county detention facilities and the fiscal impact associated with judicial resources. Please ask your legislator to support House Bill 709.
The Sentencing Project and a group of national and state organizations have sent a letter to the Florida Senate urging lawmakers to vote against efforts to expand private prisons as a cost-savings measure. A number of states have chosen an alternative approach by reducing corrections populations and avoiding spending limited resources on new prisons without threatening public safety. Florida should do the same.
As of October 2011, there were 101,200 people held in Florida state prisons, placing the state third in the nation in its incarcerated population. Florida lawmakers can reduce costs without expanding private prisons and without undermining public safety, and in doing so, avoiding the problems brought about by private prison.
Please email Nicole D. Porter at nporter [a] sentencingproject [.] org to add your organization’s name to the group sign on letter or enter your zip code below to send a personal letter to your Florida Senator.
Today, 12 states maintain sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses. Please help us urge state lawmakers to prioritize and adopt needed reforms to eliminate sentencing disparities and lessen penalties for low-level crack cocaine offenses. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, shaped the nation’s response to drug use. Central to the legislation was the enactment of long mandatory minimum sentences including the now reformed 100 to 1 crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Congress’ attempt to deter drug use through severe sentences for low-level drug offenses helped shape state policy too.
Please follow the instructions below to contact your state lawmaker and ask them to eliminate sentencing disparities for crack and powder cocaine.
With the debate on federal spending raging along with calls for cutting the nation's deficit, an opportunity has arisen for Congress to rethink its federal sentencing policies and cut corrections spending while maintaining public safety. The federal prison system in 2010 housed a record 210,000 people and last year Congress increased the prison system's budget to $6.6 billion. Between 1982 and 2007 the cost of federal corrections increased 475%, even after adjusting for inflation. Please ask your representatives in Congress to support common sense sentencing reform.
California is close to being the first state to pass a bill that would provide review and the possibility of parole for sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles. Senate Bill 399 passed in the State Senate and cleared the first hurdles in the Assembly. Still ahead, though, is the Assembly Appropriations Committee, a full vote in the Assembly, and the Governor’s pen. It’s a tough road ahead in the next few weeks.
You may think that letters don’t really make a difference, but in these matters they really do! This bill has gotten as far as it has due to a broad range of constituents who wrote letters, made phone calls, and met with their representatives.
As a supporter of The Sentencing Project, we know that you share our dedication to a sensible response to crime, one that allows for youth who commit crimes to demonstrate that they have matured beyond the poor judgment of their younger years and are eager to become contributing members of society. If this bill passes, California will review the cases of hundreds of youth currently serving life sentences with no chance for parole and allow for a revised sentence and eventual parole hearing for eligible offenders who are rehabilitated.
Please enter your zip code below to send a letter to your Representative.
Since 1996, federal law has permanently barred people convicted of drug felony offenses access to food stamps and financial assistance, unless a state chooses to modify the ban. At a time of economic hardship, denying these benefits, particularly during a person's transition from prison to the community, complicates the reentry process and contributes to recidivism. H.R. 377, the Food Assistance to Improve Reintegration Act introduced by Representative Barbara Lee would address this extreme and counterproductive policy.
Please ask your representative in Congress to cosponsor this important bill.
With the 2010 elections drawing closer, the window for reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) is closing quickly.In order to reauthorize the JJDPA this year, we need your help to encourage the U.S. Senate to pass S. 678, the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act reauthorization legislation, through the full Senate.
The JJDPA was first enacted in 1974 and provides federal funding to states that comply with a set of best practices aimed at avoiding the detention and incarceration of young people in juvenile and adult facilities. However, this law is three years overdue for reauthorization!The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a JJDPA reauthorization bill (S. 678) but it is awaiting action on the Senate floor.
Please help by weighing in with your State’s two Senators as soon as possible – even if you have contacted your Senators before – and urge them to put juvenile justice reform on the Senate schedule for a vote before the end of the year!
The National Criminal Justice Commission Act (NCJCA) would create an independent body of experts to study and advance programs and policies that promote public safety, while overhauling those practices that are found to be fundamentally flawed. The Senate will consider this bill as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill this week. Please ask your Senators to vote yes on the NCJCA amendment to the CJS appropriations bill.