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For decades, the United States of America has employed mass incarceration as a convenient answer to inconvenient questions. These policies have produced dramatic rates of incarceration, with a particularly disproportionate impact on communities of color. In addition to the range of harmful consequences to people of color, mass incarceration has been a failed policy in regard to public safety outcomes. Research has documented that the effect of imprisonment on crime rates has been modest, and that at current levels the scale of incarceration is well past the point of diminishing returns for public safety. Mass incarceration has diverted resources from prevention and treatment initiatives that could have produced far more effective approaches to crime reduction.

In recent years, the U.S. government has addressed some of the glaring racial inequalities that permeate every aspect of its criminal justice system, but these efforts have been relatively modest in scope. The government continues to both foster and perpetuate inequalities in clear violation of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as other international agreements.

The proliferation of racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system has a profound impact on the lives of people of color. Behind each statistic lies the face of a young black man or woman whose potential has been cut short by a harsh prison sentence mandated by draconian drug laws. Behind each percentage point lies the face of a Latina child who will only know her parents through hurried, awkward visits in a prison visitation room. Behind each dataset lies a community of color bereft of hope because its young people have been locked away.

It is the human face—a face of color—of the racial injustice of the United States criminal justice system that is the most compelling reason for reform. It is time for the United States to take affirmative steps to eliminate the racial disparities in its criminal justice system.

sentencingproject.org

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