Jim Webb and Arlen Specter “introduced bipartisan legislation to create a blue-ribbon commission charged with conducting an 18-month, top-to-bottom review of the nation’s entire criminal justice system and offering concrete recommendations for reform.”
“America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace,” said Senator Webb. “With five percent of the world’s population, our country houses twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980. And four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals. We should be devoting precious law enforcement capabilities toward making our communities safer. Our neighborhoods are at risk from gang violence, including transnational gang violence.
Webb continued: “There is great appreciation from most in this country that we are doing something drastically wrong. And, I am gratified that Senator Specter has joined me as the lead Republican cosponsor of this effort. We are committed to getting this legislation passed and enacted into law this year.”
“There have been many commissions in recent years, but the problems which we are now confronting warrant a fresh look,” Senator Specter said. “This commission has the potential to really make some very significant advances in public security and protection from the violent criminals. I look forward to working with Senator Webb and my colleagues in the Senate on this important legislation.”
The high-level commission created by the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 legislation will be comprised of experts in fields including criminal justice, law enforcement, public heath, national security, prison administration, social services, prisoner reentry, and victims’ rights. It will be led by a chairperson to be appointed by the President. The Majority and Minority Leaders in the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republican Governors Associations will appoint the remaining members of the commission.
Commissioners will be tasked with proposing tangible, wide-ranging reforms designed to responsibly reduce the overall incarceration rate; improve federal and local responses to international and domestic gang violence; restructure our approach to drug criminalization; improve the treatment of mental illness; improve prison administration; and establish a system for reintegrating ex-offenders.
One of the key terms above refers to the need to “restructure our approach to drug criminalization.” This is critical if we’re ever going to reform the Drug War, and perhaps a commission on prison reform is the best way to attack the billions wasted on prohibition. We should be focusing on violent criminals, not drug offenders.