Senator Demands Reform|Of Criminal Justice System

     WASHINGTON (CN) – With 7.3 million Americans in prison, on probation or parole, many condemned by mandatory sentencing to long terms for nonviolent offenses, and a disproportionate number of them men of color, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., wants a National Criminal Justice Commission to take a hard look at the entire system.

     Nearly 2.4 million Americans are in prison and another 4.9 million on probation or parole. Webb’s bill, S. 714, points out that “Minorities make up a disproportionately large share of prison population. Black males have a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives; Hispanic males have a 17 percent chance; white males have a 6 percent chance. …
     “There are 7.3 million Americans incarcerated or on probation or parole, equal to 1 in every 31 adults, an increase of 290 percent since 1980. … On average, 2 out of every 3 released prisoners will be rearrested and 1 in 2 will return to prison within 3 years of release. …
     “An analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that over the past 20 years, inflation adjusted state spending on corrections rose 127 percent while higher education expenditures rose just 21 percent. …
     “Despite high incarceration rates for drug-related offenses, illicit drug availability remains consistent. 86 percent of high school students report that it is ‘very easy’ or ‘fairly easy’ to obtain marijuana, 47 percent report the same for cocaine, 39 percent for crack, and 27 percent for heroin. …
     “Drug offenders in prisons and jails have increased 1,200 percent since 1980. Nearly a half million persons are in federal or state prisons or local jail for a drug offense, compared to an estimated 41,100 in 1980. A significant percentage of these offenders have no history of violence of high-level drug selling activity.
     “Prisons and jails nationwide have become holding facilities for the mentally ill. There are an estimated 350,000 men and women in prison and jails with serious mental disorders. Approximately 4 times as many mentally ill people are in prison than in mental health hospitals. …”
     To address these and other systematic – but politically popular – failings of U.S. incarceration policies, Webb wants the National Criminal Justice Commission established to review “all areas of federal and state criminal justices costs, practices, and policies.” He wants U.S. policies, including juvenile policies, compared with the systems in Western Europe and Japan, including “the different standards applied for types of crime, length of sentences, standards of prison administration, quality of re-entry programs for exoffenders, and recidivism rates …”
     Webb also demands “an examination of current drug policy and its impact on incarceration, crime and violence, sentencing, and re-entry programs …”
     The Commission would be dissolved 60 days after it submits a report to Congress.

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