US Senate Committee Passes The National Criminal Justice Act

January 22, 2010 - 1:02pm

By: Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

Earlier this morning the United State’s Senate, Committee on Judiciary, unanimously approved Senate Bill 714, The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009.

NORML first blogged about this federal legislation back in November, and encouraged NORML supporters to contact their U.S. Senators in favor of this long-needed reform. Fortunately, many of you did so, and today the Senate Judiciary responded accordingly.

As amended, Senate Bill 714 will establish a `National Criminal Justice Commission’ to hold public hearings and “undertake a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, including Federal, State, local, and tribal governments’ criminal justice costs, practices, and policies. … The Commission shall make findings regarding such review and recommendations for changes in oversight, policies, practices, and laws designed to prevent, deter, and reduce crime and violence, improve cost-effectiveness, and ensure the interests of justice at every step of the criminal justice system.”

It’s been many years since a federally appointed commission has taken an objective look at American criminal justice policies, and it’s been nearly 40 years since federal lawmakers have undertaken a critical examination of U.S. drug policy. As affirmed by the bill’s chief sponsor, Democrat Senator Jim Webb of Virginia:

America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. … The United States has by far the world’s highest incarceration rate. With 5% of the world’s population, our country now houses nearly 25% of the world’s reported prisoners.

… Drug offenders, most of them passive users or minor dealers, are swamping our prisons. … Justice statistics also show that 47.5% of all the drug arrests in our country in 2007 were for marijuana offenses. Additionally, nearly 60% of the people in state prisons serving time for a drug offense had no history of violence or of any significant selling activity. … African-Americans — who make up about 12% of the total U.S. population population — accounted for 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.

… It is incumbent on our national leadership to find a way to fix our prison system.”

NORML supporters can play a role in this ‘fix’ by contacting their U.S. Senators and urging them to support Senate Bill 714, The National Criminal Justice Commission Act. (Note, the measure must still be approved by the full Senate, and then the House of Representatives, before it can become law.)

‘Change we can believe in?’ It’s about damn time.

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