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Police group calls for fewer arrests on nonviolent drug charges

A promising new movement has been formed from the ranks of influential police and law enforcement officers nationwide. The group consists of more than 130 chiefs of police, prosecutors and sheriffs who have stepped forward to confirm their agreement that the country has gone overboard on incarcerating nonviolent offenders and those incarcerated for drug charges. New York City Police Chief William J. Bratton is a member of the prominent group.

The group contends that too many people are behind bars who would be better off getting treatment, and that the expense to the country is exorbitant. The group has some admirable goals, including the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences. Mandatory minimums have saddled judges and even prosecutors who would rather have the discretion to formulate less stringent sentences in many cases.

The group also intends to push for alternatives to arrest. The announcement is consistent with similar sentiments expressed this year by political leaders, elected officials, candidates and experts in the field. So far, not much has changed, and prison cells remain filled to capacity. But the addition of strong law enforcement voices to the effort may go a long way in convincing legislators and executive office holders to take necessary action.

Legislators are being called upon to start modifying the sentencing laws to provide for greater discretion of judges and to offer more treatment options instead of incarceration. Executive office holders face the challenge of compelling prison officials, such as the Federal Bureau of Prisons, to start using existing regulations for the early release of nonviolent and elderly offenders more seriously. Despite early release provisions on the federal level, the BOP has refused to engage in early release efforts.

A nonprofit organization funded through the New York University School of Law has helped to organize the group. Police Chiefs from Chicago and Los Angeles are also participating, as well as the Manhattan District Attorney. The group stresses less incarceration, rather than more, will keep the country safe. Reducing the $80 billion per year price tag is another motivation behind this major reform effort. A good deal of those funds go toward housing tens of thousands of persons languishing in prison on conviction of nonviolent drug charges.   

Source: The New York Times, "Police Leaders Join Call to Cut Prison Rosters", Timothy Williams, Oct. 20, 2015

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