The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) commends Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice (DOJ) on the August 12, 2013 announcement of the Smart on Crime initiative. Among other things, the initiative proposes to end mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders and prioritize more appropriate alternative sentencing, such as drug rehabilitation programs. The Smart on Crime initiative also seeks to reduce unjust sentences for some inmates facing extraordinary circumstances who pose no threat to public safety.
The Smart on Crime initiative is one of the most significant proposals put forth by DOJ to reform the nation’s troubled criminal justice system. NASW, in partnership with other organizations, has been a consistent voice in advocating for major changes to a justice system that has failed to distinguish between dangerous criminals and non-violent men and women in its sentencing practices. This lack of distinction has resulted in draconian punishment that has destroyed far too many lives and costs the nation tens of billions of dollars every year.
Unfair sentencing disparities have created a complex matrix of collateral consequences that condemns millions of African Americans, Latinos, and low-income Whites to long-term unemployment or marginal low-paying jobs because of their non-violent drug convictions. These sentencing policies and their secondary results have made reintegration into society difficult and have led to high re-arrests and recidivism rates.
NASW is pleased that DOJ focused its reforms on the misguided mandatory minimum sentences which have been in place for over 25 years and have effectively “tied the hands” of judges when sentencing offenders. NASW is similarly pleased that the Obama administration is keeping its promise to take a public health approach to drug policy—diverting substance abusers to treatment programs—instead of warehousing them in prisons and jails
In collaboration with other organizations, NASW looks forward to working with the Department of Justice in the implementation of these important policies.
Melvin H. Wilson, LCSW, MBA
Manager, Department of Social Justice and Human Rights