More than 130 leading U.S. law enforcement officials are campaigning to reduce the national incarceration rate, one of the highest in the world.
The group, which includes the police chiefs of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, is asking for alternatives to arrest programs, cuts in the number of criminal laws and the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences, the New York Times reports.
Members are scheduled to meet U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday and also plan to press legislators to reclassify some criminal codes so more resources can be committed to fighting serious and violent crimes.
In a dramatic shift from tough-on-crime programs of the last four decades, the law enforcement officials now say reducing incarceration will help improve public safety.
“We need less incarceration, not more, to keep all Americans safe,” the group said, according to the Times.
The group hopes to reinforce burgeoning criminal justice reform. Both sides of the aisle have already worked together to reduce the social and economic costs of mass incarceration. Current practices target African-American men disproportionally and have created a system that costs $80 billion a year. These trends are unsustainable, the group said.
“We’re talking about using a scarce resource — beds in jails and prisons — in the most effective way,’” group spokesman Benjamin David, district attorney for New Hanover and Pender Counties in North Carolina, told the Times. “I would say to people, ‘Who would you rather have in there — a bank robber or an addict who is aggressively panhandling downtown?’ This is not a political issue, it is a moral issue.”
Wielding over 1,000 years of law enforcement experience, the members hope to change not just the law, but public opinion, too.
“The system of criminal justice is not supporting what the community wants. It’s very obvious what needs to be done, and we feel the obligation as police chiefs to do this,” Garry F. McCarthy, Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department and a chairman of the group, told the Times.