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6. Obama's
Sat Jan 14, 2012, 08:26 PM
Jan 2012

Presidency seems to have brought discussion of the plight of African Americans to the forefront, where it should have been all along. Here is a fascinating report.

Criminal Justice Reform 2011 – The Good, the Bad, and the Work Ahead

As 2011 comes to end, we’re taking a look back at the year in criminal justice. Over the next few days, we’ll run a series of blog posts on the developments, good and bad, that have shaped our justice system – from overincarceration and sentencing policy to the treatment of prisoners and capital punishment. Read the series here.

It is said that you can tell a lot about a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members. In the United States, a good measure might be how we treat those who come in contact with our criminal justice system, for they are often the very same. In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union made the fight against overincarceration a top organizational priority with the launch of our Safe and Fair Campaign. It was the perfect time to do so: after decades of “tough on crime” policymaking, there is now an opening to shift to being smart on crime, and to make policy based on facts and evidence, rather than emotion and politics. America’s criminal justice system should keep communities safe, treat people fairly, and use fiscal resources wisely. It should use prison as a last resort. While we are having some success in breaking our addiction to mass incarceration, we still have a long way to go.

The good news:

  • A new report out from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) this month revealed that the number of adults behind bars, on probation, or on parole in the U.S. declined 1.3% in 2010, the second consecutive year of decline since BJS began reporting this data since 1980.

  • The same report revealed that the total U.S. prison population fell to 1.6 million, a decline of 0.6 percent during 2010 – the first decline in the total prison population in nearly four decades.10,881 fewer people were in state prisons in 2010 – the largest yearly decrease since 1977.

  • <...>

  • The United States Sentencing Commission took another step toward creating fairness in federal sentencing by voting to retroactively apply the new Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) guidelines to individuals sentenced before the law was enacted. This decision will help ensure that over 12,000 people — 85 percent of whom are African-Americans — will have the opportunity to have their sentences for crack cocaine offenses reviewed by a federal judge and possibly reduced.
The bad news:

  • <...>

  • 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s War on Drugs. Sadly, the war rages on. This, in large part, explains why a recent study found that one in three people are arrested in this country by the time they reach the age of 23.


  • The racial disparities in the criminal justice system remain staggering: right now, one in every 15 African-American males over 18 is incarcerated.
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