A plan to reduce mass incarceration and offer clemency to more than 17,000 federal prisoners serving time for non-violent drug offenses was unveiled by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker on Thursday. Booker’s mission with the “Restoring Justice Initiative” is to free federal prisoners “serving unjust and excessive sentences.”
Booker, a 2020 presidential candidate, says he would use his executive powers to make it so on the first day of his presidency. The New York Times called the proposed measures the “broadest clemency initiative since the Civil War.”
Restoring Justice Initiative
Booker’s plan broadly focuses on inmates serving sentences for marijuana-related offenses but also addresses disparate sentences resulting from old distinctions between crack and powder cocaine. Moreover, the plan would make the First Step Act measures retroactive, freeing federal inmates whose sentences would have been reduced under the measure. Booker was a sponsor of the First Step Act, which passed in 2018. The measure was designed to tackle police violence, racial profiling, and sentencing disparities.
The Restoring Justice Initiative builds on Booker’s past history of criminal justice reform efforts since his days as a member of the Newark City Council and as mayor of Newark.
“The War on Drugs has been a war on people, tearing families apart, ruining lives, and disproportionately affecting people of color and low-income individuals — all without making us safer. As president, I will act immediately to right these wrongs, starting by initiating a clemency process for thousands of nonviolent drug offenders who have been handed unjust sentences by their government. When it comes to restoring justice, we can’t be timid. As president, I will act immediately to right these wrongs, starting by initiating a clemency process for thousands of nonviolent drug offenders who have been handed unjust sentences by their government. Granting clemency won’t repair all the damage that has been done by the War on Drugs and our broken criminal justice system, but it will help our country confront this injustice and begin to heal.” — Sen. Cory Booker
Despite accounting for less than five percent of the world’s population, 20 percent of those incarcerated globally are U.S. prisoners, or 655 people per 100,000 citizens, the highest per capita incarceration rate of any country. Almost half of the federal prison sentences are for drug-related offenses. In 2015 alone, the U.S. spent $3.3 billion incarcerating drug-offenders. That’s $9.2 million per day.
And although evidence shows no difference in the rate at which Black and White Americans use and sell drugs, Black Americans are nearly three times as likely to be arrested for drug charges. Moreover, black male offenders receive sentences nearly 20 percent longer than those received by white male offenders.
All told, upwards of 20,000 inmates could see the light of day if Booker is elected POTUS.