Senator Jim Webb recently spoke in unusually clear and honest terms about the deep problems and inequities in our prison system, and called for a top-to-bottom re-evaluation of our approach to criminal justice. Webb introduced legislation to create a National Criminal Justice Commission to carry out that work, and published a great article in Parade magazine entitled “Why We Must Fix Our Prisons.”

Senator Webb is helping to create an opening for a real conversation about our broken system, and an opportunity for real prison reform. We think it’s important to publicly support what Sen. Webb is doing here, so is running a campaign to thank Sen. Webb for his efforts. You can read and sign our letter to Sen. Webb here.

Here’s the message we’re sending to ColorOfChange members today:

Dear member,

When it comes to issues plaguing Black and low-income communities, a White senator from the South is the last person we’d expect to go out on a limb and sound the alarm. Senator Jim Webb from Virginia just did exactly that when he boldly called out the over-imprisonment of Black folks and the serious problems with our prison system. Most importantly, he’s demanding big changes.1

Now it’s up to us to seize the moment and create the pressure necessary to achieve true reform.

The first step is publicly thanking Senator Webb. Our praise will show other politicians that when they take risks and step out on critical issues like prison reform, we will have their backs. It will also show that everyday people stand with Webb and are serious about this issue. Please join us, and ask your friends and family to do the same:

You can read the rest after the jump.

In recent years, politicians have lacked the courage to create meaningful prison reform. They’ve been paralyzed by the fear of being branded as “soft on crime.” They’ve been held hostage by prison guard unions and industry lobbies. And the communities most affected–Black and low-income communities–have had a hard time getting a seat at the table and making our voices heard.

Our country has a clear problem. With just 5% of the world’s population, America holds nearly 25% of the world’s reported prison population. Our prison population has quadrupled since 1984, and most of the increase comes from people being imprisoned for drug offenses–mostly minor and nonviolent.2

Despite the fact that there is no statistical difference in drug use between different racial groups, harsh drug laws have had a devastating, disproportionate effect on Black communities. While only 12% of the U.S. population is African-American, Black people make up 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.3

It’s surprising and encouraging that someone like Senator Webb is speaking out in this way. Webb is a White politician from Virginia, a Southern “law-and-order” state that has abolished parole and executed more people than any state besides Texas.4 He has nothing to gain politically from this–it’s an act of true conviction.

By eloquently making the case for reform and calling for a National Criminal Justice Commission, Webb has created a major opening to address these issues. And it comes at a time when there are increasing signs the country is ready for reform. New York’s governor and state legislature just struck a deal to reform the state’s “Rockefeller drug laws”–some of the harshest laws in the country, and a great example of the failed status quo.5 A panel of federal judges has just told California it must reduce its prison population by a third to alleviate the torturous conditions stemming from overcrowding.6 And at the same time that more people are recognizing the deep injustices in our system, the economic crisis is forcing elected officials at all levels of government to realize they can’t afford to keep directing so many taxpayer dollars toward law enforcement, jails, and prisons.7

We need to make the most of this moment. Take a minute to thank Senator Jim Webb for his courageous stand and support his call for a meaningful commission. And when you do, please ask your friends and family to do the same.

Thanks and Peace,

James, Gabriel, Clarissa, William, Dani and the rest of the team

April 9th, 2009

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