Police and Prosecutors: It’s Time to Stop Locking Up Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Law enforcement officials have joined the fight against mass incarceration.
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Oct 21, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

What do Newt Gingrich, John Legend, Cory Booker, and the Koch brothers have in common? They’re all vocal advocates of reducing the U.S. prison population. This unlikely foursome is representative of the larger group that has coalesced around the common cause of ending mass incarceration. On Wednesday, they were joined by a coalition of key stakeholders who play a leading role in locking people up every day: police and prosecutors.

The formation of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, a group that includes 130 law enforcement officials from all 50 states, was announced in Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club.

“What we’re doing today is speaking the truth,” Ben David, a North Carolina district attorney, told the audience. “We can reduce crime, and we can reduce incarceration.”

That crime and rates of imprisonment can be reduced simultaneously is not a new concept to criminologists, legal advocates, or others who have been pushing for criminal justice reform for years. But the organized support of top leaders from the badge- and gun-wielding community has long been a missing piece in the equation.

David was joined in D.C. by Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and former New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, who cochairs the organization, as well as leaders from Houston, Los Angeles, and other major metropolitan areas.

The officials emphasized four key goals: to encourage alternatives to incarceration for low-level nonviolent offenders; to achieve greater balance in the application of criminal laws; to reform mandatory minimum sentences; and to rebuild broken ties to the communities they serve.

“We’re looking for commonsense criminal justice reform,” McCarthy said. “We’re incarcerating the wrong people, and we’re measuring the wrong things. Ten years ago, if you heard a police chief say arrests were down, people would criticize and ask why he wasn’t doing his job. Today that’s something we take pride in.”