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Paul Armentano: House Passes National Criminal Justice Commission Act

This article was originally published on NORML.org

On Tuesday, Congressional Representatives passed by voice vote H.R. 5143, the House version of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010.

NORML first blogged about this federal legislation back in November, and encouraged supporters to contact their members of Congress in favor of this much-needed reform. This week the House did their part. Now it is up to the Senate to do theirs.

Said the measure’s House sponsor, Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA). “Today our prison population is expanding at an alarming rate, with costs to the taxpayers that are unsustainable. … (This) bill passed … will assess the current crisis, reverse these disturbing trends and help save taxpayer money.”

House Bill 5143 is a companion bill to S. 714, championed by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA). 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.”

In January, members of the Senate Judiciary passed S. 714. The measure awaits action by the full Senate. Hopefully, this week’s House vote will spur the Senate into action.

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. Sen. Webb articulately explains why this examination is long overdue.

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.


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