The likely confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions to be U.S. attorney general is deeply troubling. He believes people who possess marijuana should be arrested. He has recently opposed reform of mandatory minimum sentencing laws and appears to support privatized prisons. Surely clemency is beyond the pale. But the real difficulty goes far deeper than his views about particular policies. He threatens to take us back to the days before we became aware of our national collective responsibility for mass incarceration. It is only seven years – how much longer it seems – since Michelle Alexander told us in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness that the United States puts more people in prison per capita than any nation on earth and relegates African American and Hispanic communities to third-world status. Her landmark book exposed the War on Drugs, exploding in the 1980’s, as the primary cause.
Since Clergy for a New Drug Policy began, we have identified mandatory minimums as a key component of the War on Drugs requiring reform. We are pleased to announce that a bipartisan congressional committee has crafted the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which would reform unjust sentencing policies.
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid is president of Sound Vision, an Islamic not-for-profit organization. “It will lead to the escalation of the social and armed conflict, fail to solve the drug trafficking problem, endanger the peace process, attack indigenous populations’ culture and lifestyles, seriously hamper the Amazon eco-system, worsen the humanitarian and human rights crisis, promote forced displacement, and further worsen the social and political crisis,” wrote a coalition of 73 Colombian non-governmental organizations to the United States 15 years ago. With such dire warnings and dangerous rhetoric, what “it” could they be referring to? None other than the so-called American “War on Drugs.” These far-reaching social implications mirror those of the War on Terror, another example of military rhetoric that some United States officials use to describe social policy agendas.
By Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Have you ever known something to be true, and then felt that you were discovering it again for the first time? Grief can be like this: you think you have come to terms with a loss, and then realize you have not. This happened to me last week as I reread Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. What struck me was not just the absurdity and cruelty of our drug laws. It was the degree to which we have created an entire criminal justice system that conspires against those who are black, brown, and poor. All parts work in relentless sequence against whoever has been drawn in.
Clergy for a New Drug Policy opposes the harsh mandatory minimums that have radically increased the number of Americans in prison for non-violent offenses. We are excited to report that a bipartisan group of senators has crafted legislation that would reduce mandatory minimums. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 would help reverse the “tough on crime” policies that have dramatically increased the nation’s prison population and disproportionately incarcerated people of color.
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