Senator Jim Webb’s “National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009” addresses African-American incarceration rates

The American Criminal Justice System is broken. I would hope that no one would argue that. Those of us who have watched our uncles, cousins, brothers, sons, fathers and black males in general become part disproportionate part of this system know that an overhaul is needed. Since the so-called “War on Drugs” the United States has destroyed many black families by penalizing drug offenders in the African-American community more severely that others.

The only way to really impact and this flawed system is through policy change. I thank Dallas South Family members L.W. and The Seedplanter for making me aware of proposed legislation from Virginia Senator Jim Webb that is looking to address some of the ills that plague the American Criminal Justice System.

Last month on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Webb introduced the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009. According to Webb, the goal is to create a national commission with an 18-month timeline that will help “deliver us from a situation that has evolved over time where we are putting far too many
of the wrong people into prison and we are still not feeling safer in our neighborhoods…” Here are some key elements from Webb’s speech to the Senate:

Read Senator Webb’s entire floor speech

Read the National Criminal Justice Commission Act

See the Senators who co-sponsored with Webb

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA)

I am pleased today to introduce a piece of legislation designed to establish a National Criminal Justice Commission. I do so with, at the moment, twelve cosponsors, including our Majority Leader, the Chairman and the Ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs and other members of our leadership.

Let’s start with a premise that I don’t think a lot of Americans are aware of. We have 5% of the world’s population; we have 25% of the world’s known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world. There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.

I want to emphasize to my colleagues and to others that the issues that we face with respect to criminal justice are not overall racial issues. In many cases these issues involve people’s ability to have proper counsel and other issues, but there are stunning statistics with respect to drugs that we all must come to terms with.

African-Americans are about 12% of our population; contrary to a lot of thought and rhetoric, their drug use rate in terms of frequent drug use rate is about the same as all other elements of our society, about 14%. But they end up being 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of those sentenced to prison by the numbers that have been provided by us.

We are also, for a complex set of reasons, warehousing the mentally ill in our prisons. With four times as many mentally ill in our prisons opposed to institutions, the main point for all of us to consider is that these people who are in prison are not receiving the kind of treatment they would need in order to remedy the disabilities that have brought them to that situation.

Excerpts of Senator Jim Webb’s Floor Speech

The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009

March 26, 2009 has orgainzed a campaign to get behind Senator Webb’s proposed legislation which starts by thanking him for his efforts. Their message to members is as follows:

When it comes to issues plaguing Black and low-income communities, a White senator from the South is the last person we’d expect to go out on a limb and sound the alarm. Senator Jim Webb from Virginia just did exactly that when he boldly called out the over-imprisonment of Black folks and the serious problems with our prison system.

Now it’s up to us to seize the moment and create the pressure necessary to achieve true reform.

The first step is publicly thanking Senator Webb. Our praise will show other politicians that when they take risks and step out on critical issues like prison reform, we will have their backs. It will also show that everyday people stand with Webb and are serious about this issue. Please join us, and ask your friends and family to do the same: Thank Jim Webb for his criminal justice legislation.

The team

Many civil rights leaders in this country have called for legislation dealing with the criminal industrial complex in this country. I would expect these leaders and other organizations to join Color of Change in supporting this legislative act by Senator Webb. I already have and encourage each of you to do so as well.

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