Sentencing Reform Could Fix America’s Prison System

While most of the work done by nontheist activists at the federal level focuses on protecting the separation of church and state and religious freedom rights for all, humanists also have a proud history of working to fix our nation’s broken criminal justice system.

That’s why the American Humanist Association has submitted written testimony to Senate committees that deal with criminal justice reform, first in 2012, and then in 2014, during which AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt stated, “We have a moral obligation to uphold the dignity and the mental health of those currently incarcerated.” The AHA has also worked to get the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP) to recognize humanism and give humanist inmates the same religious rights as theistic inmates, which the FBP did in 2015. The AHA regularly advocates for humanist prisoners who are subjected to religious proselytization and mandatory religious activities.

In light of AHA’s history of advocating for the rights of our nation’s incarcerated citizens, we’re very pleased about a recent development on criminal justice reform.  This week, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), along with nine other co-sponsors, introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act with wide bipartisan support. While the text of this bill has yet to be released, Adam Brandon of Freedom Works claims it will do three important things, including,

expanding the exception for mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses… reduce the obscene sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1…and create individualized programs for prisoners, proven effective in states like Georgia and Texas, which reduce recidivism and promote successful reentry into society.

In this era of intense partisan gridlock, the fact that this resolution has support from both political parties gives it a real chance of passing the Senate and becoming law (if it can also make it through the more conservative House of Representatives).

America is especially ripe for prison reform, as we not only have the largest prison population in the world, according to the International Business Times, but also the second highest per-capita incarceration rate, according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research. The financial and human cost of keeping so many people in prison is enormous, which is why it is so important that both parties in Congress take action on this issue.

The AHA will continue to advocate for criminal justice reform and is proud to support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, as well as other criminal justice reforming legislation such as the Second Chance Act.