Now it's up to us to seize the moment and create the pressure necessary to achieve true reform.
I've joined ColorOfChange.org in publicly thanking Senator Webb. Our praise will show other politicians that when they take risks and step out on critical issues like prison reform, we will have their backs. It will also show that everyday people stand with Webb and are serious about this issue. Can you join me? It only takes a moment. And then please ask your friends and family to do the same:
In recent years, politicians have lacked the courage to create meaningful prison reform. They've been paralyzed by the fear of being branded as "soft on crime." They've been held hostage by prison guard unions and industry lobbies. And the communities most affected--Black and low-income communities--have had a hard time getting a seat at the table and making our voices heard.
Our country has a clear problem. With just 5% of the world's population, America holds nearly 25% of the world's reported prison population. Our prison population has quadrupled since 1984, and most of the increase comes from people being imprisoned for drug offenses--mostly minor and nonviolent.
Despite the fact that there is no statistical difference in drug use between different racial groups, harsh drug laws have had a devastating, disproportionate effect on Black communities. While only 12% of the U.S. population is African-American, Black people make up 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.
It's surprising and encouraging that someone like Senator Webb is speaking out in this way. Webb is a White politician from Virginia, a Southern "law-and-order" state that has abolished parole and executed more people than any state besides Texas. He has nothing to gain politically from this--it's an act of true conviction.
By eloquently making the case for reform and calling for a National Criminal Justice Commission, Webb has created a major opening to address these issues. And it comes at a time when there are increasing signs the country is ready for reform. New York's governor and state legislature just struck a deal to reform the state's "Rockefeller drug laws"--some of the harshest laws in the country, and a great example of the failed status quo. A panel of federal judges has just told California it must reduce its prison population by a third to alleviate the torturous conditions stemming from overcrowding. And at the same time that more people are recognizing the deep injustices in our system, the economic crisis is forcing elected officials at all levels of government to realize they can't afford to keep directing so many taxpayer dollars toward law enforcement, jails, and prisons.
We need to make the most of this moment. Please join me in thanking Senator Jim Webb for his courageous stand and support his call for a meaningful commission. And when you do, please ask your friends and family to do the same.
3. See reference 2