These Advocates and Celebrities are Fighting for #JusticeReformNOW.
Clemency recipients joined celebrities and members of Congress this spring to demand meaningful justice reform. Here’s what they’re fighting for.
In 1994, at the age of 25, Alton Mills of Chicago, Ill., was sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. The federal judge who sentenced him, Judge Marvin Aspen, criticized the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that tied his hands in the case.
Now more than 22 years later, Mills is out of prison — thanks to a commutation granted by President Obama — but the nation’s archaic sentencing laws remain badly in need of reform.
At a #JusticeReformNOW event this spring sponsored by #cut50, the ACLU, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Mills and other clemency recipients joined celebrities and members of Congress in Washington, D.C., to highlight why reforming our outdated and unfair sentencing laws is so important. In particular, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123), introduced last year by a bipartisan group of senators, would be an important first step toward addressing some of the causes of the unsustainable and unnecessary growth in the federal system as well as persistent racial disparities.
Passing meaningful reform like S. 2123 isn’t a partisan effort. The bill’s original cosponsors include Sen. Chuck Grassley, R. Iowa., who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s also cosponsored by Sen. Mike Lee, R. Utah, who is currently the only senator with a 100 percent rating from the conservative Heritage Action. Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Chuck Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island were also part of the bill’s unveiling, in addition to Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Even with that degree of bipartisanship, the bill remarkably remains stalled, now more than nine months after sailing through Grassley’s Judiciary Committee.
At the #JusticeReformNOW event, Lee described mass incarceration as a moral issue.
“The bigger cost in my mind is not the economic one, it’s not the financial one, it’s not the fiscal implications on the federal government. It’s the human cost,” Lee said. “The fact that we have husbands and fathers, sons and brothers and uncles and nephews, sent away for years, often decades at a time. It’s unconscionable. It’s not something that we should be doing.”
Author and actor Hill Harper agreed, saying “Senator Lee just said that this is an American issue. This is an American issue, because we lock up so many more people than anybody else. If there’s something that we should be known around the world for, it’s we are really good at locking people up. And that has to change.”
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act could represent part of that change, if only Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R. Ky., would bring it up for a vote. Right now, while Congress is out of town for nearly two months, submit a postcard to Leader McConnell and tell him why you think it’s time for #JusticeReformNow. Click here to begin.