WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, ahead of President Biden’s State of the Union address taking place on February 7, 2023, a partnership of legal, faith, and justice organizations, anchored by The Sentencing Project, released the following statement urging Biden to address criminal justice reform in his speech.
“We deeply mourn the killing of Tyre Nichols and other victims of police violence. Nearly three years after the murder of George Floyd, Congress has failed to address the terror of racialized police killings that plague our nation. Fifty years after the beginning of the era of mass incarceration, our criminal legal system is still characterized by racial bias, excessive sentences, and cruelty. We call on President Biden to lead the country toward justice, fairness, and safety for all.
“Many voters backed President Biden because he promised to end mandatory minimums and shrink the number of Americans needlessly locked in prisons. But for the last two years, the federal prison population has increased. It’s time for President Biden to renew his campaign promises and lay out a plan to end America’s mass incarceration crisis. We urge President Biden to chart a path that begins with cutting the national prison population in half, as he promised during his campaign. .
“First, we call on him to advise Congress that making the criminal and juvenile legal systems more equitable, just, and effective requires eliminating exceedingly long sentences and mandatory minimums that keep people incarcerated longer than they should be.
“Additionally, the United States’ mass incarceration crisis will not be solved without creating pathways home for the tens of thousands of individuals already serving extreme sentences. Therefore we also urge President Biden to endorse the concept of universal “second look” sentencing, which creates the opportunity for all individuals, after serving a significant length of time in prison, to go before a judge and seek an earlier release if they are sufficiently rehabilitated. Second look sentencing is rooted in science: research makes clear that people age out of crime and desistance from crime is the norm. We also encourage him to endorse the Second Look Act, which would make all individuals in federal prisons eligible to go before a judge and apply for resentencing after ten years.
“Finally, we urge him to remind Congress that criminal legal reform is a shared bipartisan goal. The First Step Act’s passage and success demonstrated that Democratic and Republican lawmakers can work together to improve justice and safety. Now, it’s time for Congress to collaborate again, starting with passing the EQUAL Act, which would end the racist sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.
“Americans want a fairer, more equitable, and right-sized criminal legal system. President Biden must seize this opportunity to lead the way and articulate a vision for ending mass incarceration.”
The Sentencing Project
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National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
The Festival Center
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