The population of the United States is roughly five percent of the world, yet the country houses 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. In the last 30 years, the American prison population has more than quadrupled, according to a 2013 article from The New York Times. Of the more than 2.4 million prisoners, 51 percent of are incarcerated for drug offenses, compared to four percent for robbery and one percent for homicide.
For too long people have been unfairly punished in the U.S. for having a disease, one that can be treated and managed if afforded the opportunity. Fortunately, a number of lawmakers, including the President, have found that punishing people using draconian drug laws does little to address the problem of addiction in America.
Over the summer, President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders, some of which were serving life sentences; this made a total of 89 commutations during his tenure, more than the last four presidents put together. Efforts are underway to do away with mandatory minimum sentences, which require judges to place lengthy sentences on drug offenders no matter the circumstances. As the nation grapples with an opioid epidemic the need to look towards treatment rather than prison is of the utmost importance.
At the end of October, the Justice Department has announced that it will release around 6,000 nonviolent drug offenders from federal prisons, The New York Times reports. The goal is to ease prison overcrowding and give nonviolent drug offenders another chance.
“Today’s announcement is nothing short of thrilling because it carries justice,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, Senior Legislative Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement. “Far too many people have lost years of their lives to draconian sentencing laws born of the failed drug war. People of color have had to bear the brunt of these misguided and cruel policies. We are overjoyed that some of the people so wronged will get their freedom back.”