By Joshua Russell
The United States has a mere five percent of the world’s total population, yet this country accounts for 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world at 716 per 100,000 people.
Many are serving lengthy sentences for nonviolent crimes as a result of mandatory minimum penalties, usually for drug-related offenses. When the Anti-Drug Abuse Act was passed in 1986, the U.S. prison population stood at 300,000. Today, as a result of this law and others like it, more than 2.2 million people are in prison in the United States.
Furthermore, the U.S. has massive racial disparities in its incarcerated population. African-Americans account for only 15 percent of drug users in this country but make up a staggering 60 percent of drug arrests. African-Americans and Latinos comprise 58 percent of the total prison population in the United States today. There are many reasons for this disparity, including racial profiling and the difference in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine.
There has been some progress in reforming the broken criminal justice system in the U.S. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced some of the disparities related to cocaine charges, but it is only a start.
The Second Chance Reauthorization Act, the Smarter Sentencing Act, and a bill to expunge some criminal records all progressed through their respective congressional committees in 2014. Advocates expect that they will be reintroduced in 2015 and there is hope they will be enacted into law, given that they enjoy bipartisan support.
Other criminal justice reform bills, including the Justice Safety Valve Act and the Youth Prison Reduction Act, stalled in committee during the last session of Congress. The Department of Justice has continued to encourage Congress to pass criminal justice reforms, with Attorney General Eric Holder advocating in support of sentencing reforms to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
MCC U.S. continues to support gun safety measures that are critical for everyone’s safety. Several states such as Texas and California have been pursuing gun safety measures at the state level, but thus far there has been no action at the federal level. In 2014 Congress did not consider legislation related to gun violence despite advocacy efforts by a wide variety of groups from across the country. Our office will continue to push Congress to address the issue of gun violence in 2015.