Why We Need Legislative Action to Help Reform Our Criminal Justice System.

It’s been more than seven months since the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a major criminal justice reform package aimed at reducing some mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenses and curbing recidivism. The bill — the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) — represents a significant step forward on criminal justice reform since passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

We’re still waiting for a vote by the full Senate. Here’s why we need it.

The failed “War on Drugs” that began more than 40 years ago has resulted in a system that is unjustly biased. From arrest to release, African Americans, Latinos, and low-income individuals are disproportionately over-represented throughout the system. Today, due in large part to so-called “tough on crime” policies and mandatory minimum sentences, the United States incarcerates 21 percent of the world’s prisoners despite only having 4.4 percent of the world’s population. This has come at huge financial and human costs to our society —costs that we can no longer sustain.

Some people have been granted clemency, like those featured below — but legislative reform is essential. These stories demonstrate why.

Alton Mills

I am excited that legislation has been introduced by bipartisan leaders to help others like me facing life sentences for low-level drug offenses. Under this legislation, I could have asked the judge to consider my hard work in prison and reduce my life sentence down to 25 years. A sentence of 25 years is still a very long time — but hope for a second chance would mean so much to so many men and women still locked away. Although receiving clemency is incredible, legislative reform is critical because it will impact far greater numbers of worthy people.

Read Alton’s story here.

Phillip Emmert

I beseech you to do everything in your power to make sure strong sentencing reform legislation is passed and goes to the President’s desk for signature. My sentence of 22 years was egregious, and a sentence of life without parole for currently nonviolent people is unconscionable. One can never underestimate what one act of kindness can do to change somebody’s life. Passage of the Senate Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act and the House Sentencing Reform Act will provide hope to people serving unfairly lengthy prison terms that they too might have a second chance to rebuild their lives. There has never been a better time for Congress to be bold in fixing way too harsh federal sentencing laws than there is now.

Read Phillip’s story here.

Amy Povah

It is critical that the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act currently pending in the Senate and the Sentencing Reform Act in the House of Representatives pass and be signed into law so that thousands of incarcerated people who are like me will also be able to benefit from having a second chance at life.

Read Amy’s story here.

*This post will be updated with additional stories from clemency recipients.