Civil Rights, News

Lawyers Committee Seeks an End to Mass Incarceration

Most members of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for “Tough on Crime Legislation” that opened more prisons,  added more police and led to the mass incarceration of black men

By Frederick H. Lowe

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law announced on Thursday the official launch of a criminal justice initiative to mobilize attorneys in private practice to fight mass incarceration.

The Lawyers’ Committee released a more than 80-page report called “Unequal Justice:  Mobilizing the Private Bar to Fight Mass Incarceration,” which outlines systematic racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system. The report identifies priority issues upon which the organization will focus as well as the strategies to address them.

The Lawyers’ Committee disclosed its plans a day after former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, called for criminal-justice reform, centering on the end of mass incarceration.

Clinton gave a policy speech on the issue during Wednesday’s 18th Annual David Dinkins Leadership Policy Forum at Columbia University.

Mass incarceration was prompted in part by her husband President Bill Clinton’s 1994 tough on crime legislation.

Most of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, led by Chair Kweisi Mfume in the 103rd Congress from Jan. 3, 1993 to Jan. 3, 1995, voted for the legislation that added 100,000 new police officers and committed nearly $10 billion to new prisons, according to the publication

Kweisi Mfume, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and most its members voted for legislation that led to mass incarceration of black men.
Kweisi Mfume, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and most its members voted for legislation that led to mass incarceration of black men.

Mfume, whose congressional district includes the city of Baltimore,  voted “aye” during a roll call vote.

Only 12 of the 38 members of the CBC voted against the crime bill, including Reps. John Lewis (D., Ga.)  and John Conyers (D., Mich.).

The legislation is believed to be partly to blame for the removal of 1.5 million African-American men from daily life. The NAACP reported that African Americans comprise 1 million of the 2.3 million individuals currently under correctional control.  The NAACP noted that 1 in 6 black men have been incarcerated since 2001.

Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. Senator from New York,  supported more prisons and more police.

In 2007, when she was first running for the Democratic nomination for president, she was asked at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum if her husband’s crime bill had contributed to the increase in the nation’s incarceration rate for African-American and Hispanic men. Clinton said it had.

The discussion, however, is changing.

During his State of the Union address in January, President Barack Obama called for reform of the criminal-justice system, including reducing incarceration.

The U.S. is world’s leader in prison incarceration with 2.2 million held in the nation’s prisons and jails, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that seeks alternatives to prison sentencing.

Reducing mass incarceration could occur in many ways, including decriminalizing marijuana use, which is already been done in Washington State and Colorado, and opening community dispute and mediation centers to resolve problems instead of calling the police.

A primary focus of the Lawyers’ Committee is to brainstorm with law firms to learn the best ways to fight mass incarceration. The Lawyers’ Committee is based in Washington, D.C.

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