We can fix inequities in our criminal justice system

This year nationally, the ACLU launched a comprehensive approach to criminal justice reform called the Campaign for Smart Justice to stop the vast expansion of a system that, over the last four decades, has ruined families and lives, wasted taxpayer dollars on methods that do not work and been rife with racial disparities. For too long, communities have been torn apart by racial profiling, police tactics such as stop-and-frisk and neighborhood sweeps that capture low-level offenders, and a lack of police accountability.

The campaign seeks to:

End the War on Drugs | Millions of people – disproportionately poor people and people of color – have been arrested just for having a small amount of drugs and swept into a net of correctional control that disrupts lives and is difficult to escape.

Make Sentences Fit the Crimes | Hundreds of thousands of people are serving decades-long prison sentences that are far out of proportion to their crimes because extreme sentencing and mandatory minimum laws make it impossible for judges to make sentences actually fit the crimes. In 2012, at least 3,278 people in the U.S. were serving life sentences without parole for drug, property and other nonviolent crimes.

Incentivize Smart Practices | Some for-profit prisons and service providers have a vested interest in a large prison population, but alternatives exist to reduce incarceration for low-risk offenders who do not pose a threat to the community. Police-worn body cameras have also been shown to improve accountability.

Eliminate Unnecessary Incarceration | Hundreds of thousands of people are locked up not based on any dangerous behavior, but because they could not pay off a fine or were convicted of a nonviolent drug or property crime.

Invest in Better Systems |Problems like mental illness, substance use disorders and homelessness are more appropriately addressed outside the criminal justice system altogether. It's time we got serious about pulling our money out of incarceration and putting it into systems that foster healthy communities.

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