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Paul Armentano: House Passes National Criminal Justice Commission Act

This article was originally published on NORML.org [1] On Tuesday, Congressional Representatives passed [2]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 [3] 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 [4] 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 [5] 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.