BILL CREATING A BLUE-RIBBON COMMISSION TO REVIEW OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM PASSES U.S. HOUSE
NEW LAW WOULD CREATE A BI-PARTISAN COMMISSION TO EVALUATE EVERY STAGE OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROCESS AND THE DISPARATE REPRESENTATION AND TREATMENT OF RACIAL ANDETHNIC MINORITIES IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
On Tuesday, July 27, 2010, the United States House of Representatives passed, by a unanimous vote, H.R. 5143, the National Criminal Justice Act, which would create a national commission with an 18-month timeline to examine and review the myriad of problems that exist in our current criminal justice system. Specifically, this commission would review every stage of the criminal justice system, from initial contact to sentencing to the challenges facing those ex-offenders who are reentering society. The commission would also be charged with looking into the myriad of problems that have resulted in the staggering overrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities from pedestrian stops to the use of the death penalty.
At every stage of the criminal justice process serious problems undermine basic tenets of fairness and equity. Perhaps the most glaring problem is the number of racial and ethnic minorities who are disproportionately treated more harshly and more often by our Nation's criminal justice system. At every stage of the criminal justice process - from initial contact to sentencing to the challenges facing those reentering the community after incarceration - racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in the number of people stopped, arrested, tried, convicted, incarcerated and even executed. These disparities are particularly true for African American men and boys. Initial contacts with police officers are often driven by racial profiling and other racially tainted practices, and the disparities exist through the sentencing phase: African Americans routinely receive more jail time and harsher punishments. Although African Americans make up just over 12% of the national population, 42% of Americans currently on death row are African American. Nearly a million African Americans today are incarcerated in prisons and in jails, and unless there is a change, a black male born today has a one-in-three chance of going to prison in his lifetime. Furthermore, African American women have the highest rate of incarceration among women in our nation, a rate that is four times higher than that of White women.
This is not just a problem among African Americans or racial and ethnic minorities. Our nation has 5 percent of the world's population. We have 25 percent of the world's known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States that is five times the incarceration rate in the rest of the world. The bottom line is that under our current criminal justice system too many people are being incarcerated and otherwise caught up in the criminal justice system and we still have too many Americans who do not feel safe in the homes or their communities. Furthermore, because of the disparities that result from our current system, entire communities within our country do not have confidence in the criminal justice system.
WE MUST NOW FOCUS OUR ENERGIES ON THE UNITED STATES SENATE. A COMPANION BILL, S. 714, HAS BEEN APPROVED OF BY THE SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE AND IS AWAITING ACTION BY THE FULL SENATE. THE NAACP STRONGLY SUPPORTS THE NATIONAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT, S. 714 / H.R. 5143, AND ENCOURAGES ALL SENATORS TO ACT QUICKLY TO ENSURE THAT THIS LEGISLATION BECOMES LAW.