When we saw this article in the Huffington Post we knew we had to share it. News like this is a powerful reminder of how significant our members' advocacy can be. We all know that the so-called war on drugs has proven to be an all out war on communities of color across the nation. But victories in the battle against discriminatory drug policies are slowly paying off. Today new federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine become permanent, and next week more than 1,000 federal inmates become eligible for immediate release.
ColorofChange.org members consistently pressured Congress to eliminate the disparity in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine offenses, so news of a halt in prison population growth is of particular importance to our community. Low-income Black and Latino communities have been devastated by discriminatory drug policies -- policies that have contributed to placing one in nine Black men between the ages of 20 and 34 behind bars. Victories in the past year have begun to turn the tide. Before Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in the summer of 2010, there was a 100-to-1 disparity in sentences for crack and powder cocaine offense. Now there's an 18:1 ratio.
According to the HuffPost report, policy changes at the state level are having a huge impact on incarceration rates as well:
With a strong focus on non-violent offenders -- many locked up for drug-related crimes -- states are increasingly looking at alternatives to incarceration and enacting new polices to moderate long sentences for those already behind bars.
The result is a national prison population that has flatlined after decades of unprecedented growth, experts say.
"In the last year or two, it's more or less stabilized as a whole," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group. "Now, we're stabilizing at a world-record rate, so it's nothing to get too excited about. But it is notable."
The U.S. leads all nations in incarceration, with nearly 2.4 million people in prisons and jails, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That is about 25 percent of all people incarcerated worldwide, though the U.S. represents only 5 percent of the global population.
Federal and state corrections cost the American taxpayer about $68 billion per year, according to the Pew Center on the States.
While the prison population evens out nationwide, some states have achieved dramatic declines in incarceration rates. Leading the pack are New York and New Jersey, which have trimmed prison populations by approximately 20 percent in the past decade. Those declines are due in large part to a drop-off in the number of offenders sentenced for drug crimes.