Over 130 police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors across the United States are the latest to add their voices to the movement demanding reforms to the country's criminal justice system. The officials announced Wednesday the creation of a new coalition that will, among other things, push to end mass incarcerations in the country.
The group, who call themselves the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, is made up of officials from across the country, including some of the nation's highest-profile officials from Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.
“The system of criminal justice is not supporting what the community wants. It’s very obvious what needs to be done, and we feel the obligation as police chiefs to do this.”
According to the coalition, “Too many people are behind bars that don't belong there,” reported the New York Times.
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It stated among its top priorities that the group will push for alternatives to arrests, a reduction in the number of criminal laws, and an end mandatory sentencing in order to stop unnecessary incarcerations. The group also emphasized on their website that more arrests and stopping crime do not necessarily go hand in hand.
The coalition pointed to studies that show that more than one-third of prisoners have mental health or substance abuse problems and are usually serving time for low-level crimes such as drug possession or shop lifting. It also questioned whether incarceration was the best treatment for these individuals.
The group also highlighted other studies which found that African-American men are by far the most affected by mass incarcerations, while minorities often receive harsher sentences compared to white men – an issue that has created a major rift between law enforcement and the communities they are meant to protect.
According to a 2013 study by the Sentencing Project, one in three African-Americans can expect to spend time in prison, compared to one in 17 white men.
“After all the years I’ve been doing this work, I ask myself, ‘What is a crime, and what does the community want?’” Chicago Superintendent Garry McCarthy, a chairman of the group, told the New York Times. “When we’re arresting people for low-level offenses — narcotics — I’m not sure we’re achieving what we’ve set out to do. The system of criminal justice is not supporting what the community wants. It’s very obvious what needs to be done, and we feel the obligation as police chiefs to do this.”
In a press release Wednesday, the coalition described itself as a “surprising new voice” on the issue of mass incarcerations. Others have echoed this sentiment, with the New York Times saying it “represents an abrupt public shift in philosophy for dozens of law enforcement officials who have sustained careers based upon tough-on-crime strategies.”
The coalition has already received attention from the White House and will meet with President Barack Obama Thursday to discuss some of its initiatives.