(The Root) — What do NAACP President Ben Jealous, Russell Summons, Scarlett Johansson, Harry Belafonte, Kim Kardashian, six elected officials and seven athletes have in common? They're all part of a group that has signed on to an open letter urging President Obama to support criminal-justice policy focused more on prevention and rehabilitation than on what they call a "punitive, suppression-based model."
Reacting in part to Department of Justice data showing that the United States leads the world in incarceration of its own citizens and that 500,000 of the 2.3 million people behind bars in the U.S. are incarcerated for nothing more than a nonviolent drug offense, the coalition of more than 175 signatories, organized by Simmons and Dr. Boyce Watkins, advocates for specific policies that members say are "smart on crime" versus "tough on crime."
"It is critical that we change both the way we think about drug laws in this country and how we generate positive solutions that leave a lasting impact on rebuilding our communities," said Simmons. "We need to break the school-to-prison pipeline, support and educate our younger generations and provide them with a path that doesn't leave them disenfranchised with limited options."
An excerpt from the letter:
Mr. President, it is evident that you have demonstrated a commitment to pursue alternatives to the enforcement-only "War on Drugs" approach and address the increased incarceration rates for non-violent crimes. Your administration has moved in the right direction by committing increased funds to drug prevention and treatment programs and supporting state and local re-entry grants. We encourage you to continue your efforts to revamp the policies of the last 30 years that have seen the prison population skyrocket.
The greatest victims of the prison industrial complex are our nation’s children. Hundreds of thousands of children have lost a parent to long prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses, leaving these children to fend for themselves. Many of these children end up in the criminal justice system, which comes as no surprise as studies have shown the link between incarceration and broken families, juvenile delinquency, violence and poverty.
Mr. President, we are a coalition of concerned advocates that is ready to support you in more innovative criminal justice reform and implementing more alternatives to incarceration. As you set in motion research and policy to combat this societal crisis, this coalition is poised to help you make the transition successful. In 2010, the passage of the
Fair Sentencing Act was a tremendous step in the right direction, and we appreciate how hard you worked on getting that done. Some of the initial policies we recommend is,under the Fair Sentencing Act, extend to all inmates who were subject to 100-to-1 crackto-powder disparity a chance to have their sentences reduced to those that are more consistent with the magnitude of the offense. We ask your support for the principles of the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, which allows judges to set aside mandatory minimum sentences when they deem appropriate …
Read the entire letter at NAACP.org.