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December 19, 2014
State Advocacy Update: Addressing Racially Disparate Criminal Justice Policies and More

Approaches to Address Racial Disparity

Local Policy Interventions

Advocating to Fund Effective Alternatives


December 17, 2014 (Los Angeles Times)
Obama commutes sentences of eight prisoners convicted on drug charges

President Obama commuted the sentences Wednesday of eight prisoners serving lengthy terms for drug charges, but it was only a fraction of the 6,561 who applied for his help.

In January, the Justice Department announced an ambitious program to recruit lawyers to help drug offenders seek presidential clemency after being jailed under harsh sentencing laws. The move was in line with Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.’s push to reduce the U.S. prison population, particularly among African Americans serving disproportionally longer sentences for crack cocaine possession.


December 11, 2014
Senators Grassley and Whitehouse Introduce Juvenile Justice Bill

Washington, D.C. – Today, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced a bill to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).  The Grassley-Whitehouse bill would modernize America’s justice system with evidence-based practices for handling troubled youth and provide the federal leadership to promote effective juvenile justice systems. The JJDPA was last reauthorized in 2007 but has not been substantively revised since 2002.

“Under this bill, states and local jurisdictions will make measurable, positive differences in the lives of youth who encounter the juvenile justice system, regardless of race or ethnicity,” said Ashley Nellis, a senior research analyst at The Sentencing Project. “Recent events remind us that efforts toward racial justice are not nearly finished, but this bill moves us closer.”

In 2011, almost 1.5 million American youth were arrested, 95 percent of them for non-violent offenses.


December 9, 2014
The Sentencing Project Submits Recommendations to D.C.’s Mayor-Elect

Following her election as Washington, D.C.’s new mayor, Muriel Bowser has sought public input on important issues facing the District. The Sentencing Project submitted four recommendations for juvenile justice reform:

  • Make aggregate juvenile arrest data available and transparent;
  • Limit the use of arrest for low-level offenses;
  • Prioritize evidence-based programs, and not incarceration, for delinquent youth; and
  • Keep juveniles out of the adult system.

The full testimony can be read here.


December 9, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
Statement by The Sentencing Project for Senate Hearing on the State of Human and Civil Rights

The Sentencing Project submitted a statement today for inclusion in the record of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on “The State of Civil and Human Rights in the United States.”  

We commend Chairman Dick Durbin for continuing his examination of the policies and practices that contribute to excessive imprisonment and racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system. In this written statement, we seek to bring attention to the causes of mass incarceration and racial injustice, the failures of mandatory minimum penalties, and the deeply problematic policy of felony disenfranchisement.


December 4, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
On Eric Garner’s Death and the Need to Re-Envision Policing

People protesting the non-indictment in the killing of Eric Garner

Eric Garner’s tragic death at the hands of a New York City police officer and a grand jury’s decision to not indict have heightened concerns about police practices and accountability. Coming in the wake of a police officer’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and subsequent non-indictment, Americans are outraged and demanding change. “Black lives matter” has become the rallying cry of activists and is being echoed by political leaders including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. De Blasio has noted: “It’s a phrase that should never have to be said, it should be self-evident, but our history requires us to say that black lives matter.”

Black and white Americans experience different police practices. They encounter police at different rates and for different reasons, and they are treated differently during those encounters. Racially biased use of discretion – either intentional or unintentional – is one cause of the disproportionate police contact that is not explained by differences in crime rates. Another cause is policies, such as “stop and frisk” and “broken windows policing,” that place people of color under greater scrutiny with the rationale of circumventing serious crimes. Officer Darren Wilson stopped Brown for jaywalking. Officer Daniel Pantaleo and his colleagues approached Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes.

There is limited evidence to support the efficacy of targeting such petty crimes, while there is great cause for concern about the impact. Excessive police encounters erode trust and cooperation with the police, contribute to the over-representation of people of color in prisons and jails, and lead to the disproportionate rate of fatal police encounters among unarmed African American men. We must work to correct all of these problems.

Recommended reading: "Broken Windows Policing Doesn't Work," on Slate.


December 3, 2014
Race and Justice News

Policing: African Americans Experience Disproportionate Police Contact Across U.S.

Marijuana Reforms: Will Decriminialization and Legalization End Racially Disparate Enforcement?

State Punitiveness: Black Population Size Predicts State Punitiveness

Legislative Reforms: Crack Sentencing and the Felony Drug Ban on Welfare Benefits


December 3, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
Center for American Progress Report on Eliminating Barriers to Reentry

This week, the Center for American Progress released an important new report analyzing barriers to economic security and mobility for people with criminal records and making recommendations for reform. The Sentencing Project's Marc Mauer appeared at an event highlighting the release of the report and joined a panel conversation to discuss these issues.


December 1, 2014
Disenfranchisement News

Iowa: ACLU files lawsuit challenging voting laws

Florida: Advocates take action to restore voting rights on 2016 ballot

National: "The Racist Origins of Felon Disenfranchisement"


November 25, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
The Sentencing Project on the Tragedy in Ferguson

The tragic death of Michael Brown and the subsequent developments in Ferguson are cause for great concern. The outpouring of emotion following the decision of the grand jury to not issue an indictment is a strong statement of the degree to which the circumstances surrounding this death have touched people and resonated with profound feelings about race and the justice system.

We have been here before. The recent cases of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, as well as Rodney King and the Jena 6, have animated ongoing conversations about race and justice. In many ways these dialogues are constructive, but we must do more than engage in rhetoric on a case-by-case basis.

Perceptions of unfairness in the justice system undermine confidence in the system in communities of color, which in turns harms approaches to public safety. Interventions can be adopted to address structural problems that plague the nation’s criminal justice system. In recent years there has been modest progress: documentation of racial profiling has resulted in changes in policy and practice in many jurisdictions; sentencing reforms at the state and federal level have scaled back excessive penalties applied disproportionately to people of color; and in both the adult and juvenile justice systems, the number of incarcerated African Americans has declined modestly in recent years.

Even so, we still are faced with a society and a criminal justice system in which one of every three African American men, and one of every six Hispanic men, can expect to go to prison in his lifetime if current trends continue. Dispelling the illusion that the American justice system is colorblind is a crucial step in addressing racial disparities. A shameful truth is that too often, there is a different criminal justice system for whites and blacks, and for the wealthy and the poor. These circumstances are unconscionable and can only be addressed through continuing and comprehensive change.

At The Sentencing Project, we are proud to be among organizations and individuals working towards reform and racial justice. The recent events remind us of the importance of engaging in these struggles. We welcome your active collaboration with us in the weeks and months ahead.