What do P-Diddy, Cameron Diaz, Nicki Minaj, Ron Howard and Mark Wahlberg all have in common? Aside from being ridiculously famous and wealthy, they all support the reformation of drug laws in this country.
More than 175 actors, artists, athletes and elected officials signed on to an open letter to President Obama today, asking him to change our drug policy laws from punitive, harsh jail times to one that favors evidence- based prevention and rehabilitation.
"Mr. President, it is evident that you have demonstrated a commitment to pursue alternatives to the enforcement-only "War on Drugs" approach and address the increased incarceration rates for non-violent crimes," the letter reads. "Your administration has moved in the right direction by committing increased funds to drug prevention and treatment programs and supporting state and local re-entry grants. We encourage you to continue your efforts to revamp the policies of the last 30 years that have seen the prison population skyrocket."
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the U.S. leads the world in imprisoning it's citizens. There are more than 2.3 million people in prison in the U.S., with roughly 500,000 in jail for nonviolent drug offenses.
"It is critical that we change both the way we think about drug laws in this country and how we generate positive solutions that leave a lasting impact on rebuilding our communities," said hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, who spearheaded the letter along with Dr. Boyce Watkins. "We need to break the school to prison pipeline, support and educate our younger generations and provide them with a path that doesn't leave them disenfranchised with limited options."
The letter recommends extending the Fair Sentencing Act, supporting the Youth PROMISE Act, and allowing judges to set aside mandatory minimum sentences on a case-by-case basis. Others high-profile celebs who signed on include former drug addict Russell Brand, Lil Wayne, comedian Chris Rock, boxer Mike Tyson and Mad Men star Jon Hamm.
"The letter is intended to be a respectful appeal to the Obama Administration asking that we develop productive pathways to supporting families that have been harmed by the War on Drugs," Watkins said in a Drug Policy Alliance press release. "Countless numbers of children have been waiting decades for their parents to come home, and America is made safer if we break the cycle of mass incarceration. Time is of the essence, for with each passing year that we allow injustice to prevail, our nation loses another piece of its soul. We must carefully examine the impact of the War on Drugs and the millions of living, breathing Americans who've been affected. It is, quite simply, the right thing to do."Page down to read the letter in its entirety as well as view the hundreds of people who signed on to the letter.
Your hard work and leadership on issues affecting the unrepresented classes of people in our nation have served as an inspiration to many of us who hope for brighter futures for all Americans. In that spirit, we believe the time is right to further the work you have done around revising our national policies on the criminal justice system and continue moving from a suppression-based model to one that focuses on intervention and rehabilitation. We are proud of your accomplishments around these issues, specifically your leadership on gun control, your investments in "problem solving courts," your creation of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, your launching the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention and your prosecution of a record number of hate crimes in 2011 and 2012. We certainly hope that this type of leadership is appreciated by all members of Congress, regardless of political affiliation, and you are joined by members of all parties in your pursuit of a more perfected union.
Mr. President, it is evident that you have demonstrated a commitment to pursue alternatives to the enforcement-only "War on Drugs" approach and address the increased incarceration rates for non-violent crimes. Your administration has moved in the right direction by committing increased funds to drug prevention and treatment programs and supporting state and local re-entry grants. We encourage you to continue your efforts to revamp the policies of the last 30 years that have seen the prison population skyrocket.
The greatest victims of the prison industrial complex are our nation's children. Hundreds of thousands of children have lost a parent to long prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses, leaving these children to fend for themselves. Many of these children end up in the criminal justice system, which comes as no surprise as studies have shown the link between incarceration and broken families, juvenile delinquency, violence and poverty.
Mr. President, we are a coalition of concerned advocates that is ready to support you in more innovative criminal justice reform and implementing more alternatives to incarceration. As you set in motion research and policy to combat this societal crisis, this coalition is poised to help you make the transition successful.
In 2010, the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act was a tremendous step in the right direction, and we appreciate how hard you worked on getting that done. Some of the initial policies we recommend is, under the Fair Sentencing Act, extend to all inmates who were subject to 100-to-1 crack-to-powder disparity a chance to have their sentences reduced to those that are more consistent with the magnitude of the offense. We ask your support for the principles of the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, which allows judges to set aside mandatory minimum sentences when they deem appropriate.
We ask that you form a panel to review requests for clemency that come to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. Well-publicized errors and omissions by this office have caused untold misery to thousands of people. Additionally, we want to applaud your staunch commitment to re-entry programs that are necessary to ensure that those who leave the system are able to become productive members of society as well as reliable husbands, fathers, mothers and wives. We certainly would like to help you achieve an increase in the number of these transition programs. Finally, we strongly urge you to support the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education (Youth PROMISE) Act, a bill that brings much needed focus on violence and gang intervention and prevention work.
During your presidency you have made important steps and you now have the opportunity to leave a legacy by transforming our criminal justice system to an intervention and rehabilitation based model. Many of those impacted by the prison industrial complex are among your most loyal constituents. Your struggles as the child of a single mother allow you to identify with millions of children who long to be with their parents. We request the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these ideas further and empower our coalition to help you achieve your goals of reducing crime, lowering drug use, preventing juvenile incarceration and lowering recidivism rates. We stand with you, ready to do what is just for America.
CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS & ADVOCATES
Dr. Benjamin Chavis
Major Neill Franklin, LEAP
Rev. Jesse Jackson
Benjamin Todd Jealous, NAACP
Avis Jones-Deweever, National Council of Negro Women
Maria Theresa Kumar, VotoLatino
Donna Leiberman, NYCLU
Margaret Moran, LULAC
Marc Morial, National Urban League
Ethan Nadelmann, Drug Policy Alliance
Rev. Al Sharpton, NAN
Rashad Robinson, Colors of Change
Anthony Romero, ACLU
Julie Stewart, Families Against Mandatory Minimums
Dr. Boyce Watkins
Brent Wilkes, LULAC
Vanessa Williams, National Conference of Black Mayors
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Hip-Hop Caucus
La La Anthony
Cedric The Entertainer
Adrian Grenierhere u
LL Cool J
Jada Pinkett Smith
Bishop James Clark
Bishop Noel Jones
Bishop Clarence Laney
Bishop Edgar Vann
Dr. Iva Carruthers
Father Michael Pfleger
Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Rabbi Nina Mandel
Rev. Jamal Bryant
Rev. Delman Coates
Rev. Leah D. Daughtry
Rev. Dr. Fredrick Haynes
Rev. Michael McBride
Rev. Dr. W Franklyn Richardson
Andre "3000" Benjamin
Big Boi of Outkast
Charlamagne tha God
Sean "Diddy" Combs
DJ Pauly D
Joanna "JoJo" Levesque
Katrina "Trina" Taylor
Sir Richard Branson
Ron Busby, US Black Chamber of Commerce
Chip Rosenbloom, Owner St. Louis Rams
Congressman Tony Cardenas
Congressman Keith Ellison
Congresswoman Marcia Fudge
Congresswoman Barbara Lee
Congressman Bobby Rush
Congressman Bobby Scott
Kimora Lee Simmons
Chuck Creekmur, AllHipHop.com
Cathy Hughes, Radio One
Alfred Liggins, Radio One
Jim Wallis, Sojourners
ACADEMIA & THOUGHT LEADERS
Dr. Carlton Brown, Clark Atlanta Univ.
Prof. Michael Eric Dyson
Dr. Christopher Emdin
Dr. Michael Fauntroy
Dr. Eddie Glaude
Dr. Marc Lamont Hill
Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu
Dr . Wilmer Leon
Dr. Julianne Malveaux
Dr. John E. Maupin, Jr., Morehouse School of Medicine
Dr. Stanley Pritchett, Morris Brown College
Ricky "Freeway" Ross
Dr. Tyra Seldon, Co Chair, Education Over Incarceration (EOI)
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, Spelman College