Editor’s Note: The article below was produced as part of the Social Justice News Nexus, a program launched this year by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications with a two-year grant from the McCormick Foundation.
Now that American prisons are swollen to capacity with thousands of non-violent, low-level drug offenders, public officials – like powerhouse U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), the majority whip, and even some judges – are shifting their attitudes about the War on Drugs.
Many of the inmates have addictions and many have been given harsh punitive sentences, including life without parole, after being charged with possession of small amounts of crack or powder cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine under laws established decades ago.
This growing number of officials are currently meeting around the country to rethink the drug war while modifying policies and revising procedures for charging and sentencing offenders under old drug laws.
All this is done in a drastic attempt to reduce the enormous costs to taxpayers of the criminal justice and prison systems while trying to rectify the disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos locked behind cold steel bars.