United States Conference of Mayors Unanimously Passes Resolution Calling the War on Drugs a Failed Policy That is Driving Over-incarceration and Racial Disparities
On 40th Anniversary of Drug War, Nation's Mayors Endorse Senator Jim Webb's Federal Legislation to Review and Reform Entire U.S. Criminal Justice System
Resolution Comes on the Heels of Report from Global Drug Policy Commission Calling for Major Drug Policy Reform
"The war on drugs – declared 40 years ago this weekend – has been the principal driver of mass incarceration in America," said U.S. mayors in a resolution adopted on Monday at the United States Conference of Mayor's annual meeting in Baltimore. The mayors pointed out that the U.S. has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 2.4 million of its residents in prison or jail, including roughly 500,000 Americans behind bars for drug law violations – an increase of 1200 percent since 1980.
In their resolution, the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) officially endorsed pending bi-partisan federal legislation, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2011, sponsored by Virginia Senator Jim Webb and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. The Act would "take the long-overdue step of creating a national, bi-partisan, blue-ribbon commission charged with undertaking a comprehensive, 18-month, top-to-bottom review of the criminal justice system and proposing concrete, wide-ranging reforms," according to the resolution.
Adopted resolutions become the official policy of the USCM, which speaks as one voice to promote best practices and the most pressing priorities of our nation's cities.
"A national criminal justice commission will help identify cost-effective solutions for improving public safety, breaking the cycle of addiction, and keeping families together," said Santa Fe Mayor David Coss who offered the resolution that the United States Conference of Mayors Adopted. "We simply cannot afford to continue wasting taxpayer money on failed criminal justice policies when there are less expensive, more humane, and more effective ways to deal with drugs and crime."
"The U.S. is supposed to be the land of the free but we have more people behind bars than any other country in the world, mostly because of the failed war on drugs," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The 40th Anniversary of the failed drug war is a good opportunity to move in a new direction. A national commission would help policymakers develop evidence-based policies that reduce incarceration, save taxpayer money, and improve public safety."
According to the mayors' resolution, the Criminal Justice commission will produce recommendations to "reduce crime and violence, improve cost-effectiveness, ensure the interests of justice at every step of the criminal justice system…reduce incarceration, reform U.S. drug policy, eliminate racial and gender disparities, improve re-entry efforts, and expand access to substance abuse treatment, mental health services and healthcare—goals that this Conference strongly supports."
The resolution comes on the heels of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which released a report on June 2 calling for a major paradigm shift in how our society deals with drugs, including decriminalization and legal regulation. The report sent a jolt around the world, generating thousands of international media stories. The commission is comprised of international dignitaries including Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations; Richard Branson, entrepreneur, founder of the Virgin Group; and the former Presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Switzerland. Representing the U.S. on the commission are George P. Shultz, Paul Volcker, and John Whitehead.
The US Conference of Mayors' resolution is available at: http://usmayors.org/79thAnnualMeeting/documents/AdoptedResolutions.pdf (page 54)
Full text of the resolution passed by the United States Conference of Mayors:
IN SUPPORT OF THE NATIONAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE COMMISSION ACT OF 2011
WHEREAS, The United States Conference of Mayors has long advocated for reforms to achieve fairness and effectiveness in the criminal justice system; and
WHEREAS, the United States has by far the world's highest incarceration rate, with just five percent of the world's population but 25 percent of the world's prisoners; and
WHEREAS, the United States currently incarcerates nearly 2.4 million people in its prisons and jails – or one in every 100 U.S. residents; and
WHEREAS, the war on drugs – declared 40 years ago this weekend – has been the principal driver of mass incarceration in America; and
WHEREAS, roughly 500,000 Americans are behind bars for a drug law violation – an increase of 1200 percent since 1980; and
WHEREAS, although drug use is similar across racial and ethnic groups, minorities are incarcerated at higher rates and for longer periods of time; African Americans, for example, are 3.4 times more likely than Whites to be arrested for a drug crime; and
WHEREAS, the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution at its 75th Annual Meeting declaring the war on drugs a failure and calling for fundamental changes to the U.S. criminal justice system, including a dramatic reduction in the number of nonviolent people behind bars and in the racial disparities created or exacerbated by the criminal justice system; and
WHEREAS, the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution at its 74th Annual Meeting opposing mandatory minimum sentencing on both the state and federal levels and urging the creation of fair and effective sentencing policies; and
WHEREAS, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has a long established policy of promoting the successful re-entry of people leaving prison or jail; and
WHEREAS, post-incarceration re-entry programs are haphazard and often nonexistent, undermining public safety and making it extremely difficult for formerly incarcerated people to become full, contributing members of society; and
WHEREAS, the costs to our federal, state, and local governments of unjust and ineffective criminal justice policies continue to grow, yet a comprehensive evaluation of the U.S. criminal justice system has not been undertaken since 1967; and
WHEREAS, Virginia Senator Jim Webb and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham have introduced federal legislation—the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2011 – that would take the long-overdue step of creating a national, bi-partisan, blue-ribbon commission charged with undertaking a comprehensive, 18-month, top-to-bottom review of the criminal justice system and proposing concrete, wide-ranging reforms; and 55
WHEREAS, the commission will produce recommendations for changes in oversight, policies, practices, and laws designed to prevent, deter, and reduce crime and violence, improve cost effectiveness, and ensure the interests of justice at every step of the criminal justice system; and
WHEREAS, the commission's purview would include making recommendations to reduce incarceration, reform U.S. drug policy, eliminate racial and gender disparities, improve re-entry efforts, and expand access to substance abuse treatment, mental health services and healthcare—goals that this Conference strongly supports;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the United States Conference of Mayors affirms its support for the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2011 and calls upon the United States Congress to enact the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2011 in the112th Congress.
Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Bill Piper 202-669-6430