ACLU Launches Effort to Free 50,000 State Prisoners

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Photo by Elentir via Flickr

Bolstered by a poll showing widespread bipartisan support for releasing eligible prisoners, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is spearheading a campaign to lobby governors for the release of 50,000 “unjustifiably imprisoned” state inmates over the next five years.

The ACLU said the campaign, The Redemption Campaign – Embracing Clemency, is a “first of its kind nationwide effort.”

It aims at persuading governors to use their clemency powers “to confront mass incarceration and racial injustice by granting commutations to large groups of people who are unjustifiably imprisoned.”

According to the ACLU poll, 80 percent of respondents supported the use of clemency to end or shorten prison sentences for inmates fulfilling certain criteria.

“This includes 80 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of Republicans, and 81 percent of independents,” the ACLU said in a statement.

 “Among those who have personally been a victim of a crime, 82 percent support clemency.

Inmates tagged as eligible for early release include:

      • People who, if convicted under current laws, would serve a lesser sentence than what they are currently serving;
      • People convicted of drug distribution and possession offenses, regardless of underlying substance;
      • People incarcerated for technical probation or parole violations; and
      • Older incarcerated people.

In its statement announcing the campaign, the ACLU said it would take advantage of upcoming gubernatorial races to mobilize public support.

“The Redemption Campaign will push governors to use their existing clemency powers to confront mass incarceration and racism in the criminal legal system,” said Udi Ofer, Director of the ACLU’s Justice Division.

“The United States is in a mass incarceration crisis, and governors hold the key to fixing it. “

Freeing 50,000 people is readily achievable, the ACLU said, noting that of the 1.3 million people in state prisons, nearly 165,000 people are over the age of 55, and the number of older incarcerated people continues to grow.

Further, there are 280,000 people imprisoned for technical violations of the terms of probation or parole.

“It is clear from any metric that far too many people are being harmed by the brutal excesses of the criminal legal system — serving sentences that serve no purpose other than to punish and degrade,” the ACLU said.

Additional reading:

A blog post by Jason Hernandez, detailing his experience with clemency

 Corrective Compassion trailer video.

A blog by former prosecutor Preston Shipp on clemency.

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