Category Archives: Criminal Justice

Eliminate Unjust Sentencing Disparities and Build Anew

The EQUAL Act Has a Fighting Chance

The EQUAL Act Has a Fighting Chance

Min. Christian S. Watkins
November 18, 2022

Eliminate Unjust Sentencing Disparities and Build AnewOver the past two years, the NETWORK community has worked to advance legislation that would reform the criminal legal system for our first and second annual Lobby Days, with the goal of doing our part to end the injustice of mass incarceration.

Now, after much effort, the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law, better known as the EQUAL Act, finally has an opportunity to pass in the Senate. The EQUAL Act is bipartisan legislation that seeks to eliminate the disparity in sentencing for cocaine offenses, a major contributor to mass incarceration. It would apply retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced. The difference between success and failure is dependent on NETWORK and our partners making a joyful noise in support of the EQUAL Act.  

The original EQUAL Act was introduced in the House on March 9, 2021 by Representatives Hakeem Jeffries, Kelly Armstrong, Bobby Scott, and Don Bacon and in the Senate on January 28, 2021 by Senators Cory Booker and Dick Durbin. The House passed the bill on September 28, 2021. However, the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to take it up for consideration. The lead Senate sponsors were not satisfied with the bill dying in Committee, so they and Rep. Jeffries inserted the EQUAL Act into a piece of must-pass legislation, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).   

Now, categorically, NETWORK does not support the NDAA. Congress passes the NDAA every year to set guidelines and priorities for defense policy, make organizational changes to the Department of Defense (DoD) and other interrelated agencies, and provide guidance on how military funding can be spent among other things. Year after year, mandatory military funding has proven that exponentially increased military spending has been detrimental to our nation, and its passage has often been the bane of justice advocates and peace seekers nationwide. Instead of Congress pursuing bold reforms to defense spending, the annual passage of ever-increasing funding to the DoD in the NDAA has locked us in an unsustainable cycle that leaves other legislative priorities without adequate financial support, and left only crumbs for disenfranchised and disinvested communities of color.

Despite our disagreements with it, the NDAA will pass with broad bipartisan support this year, as it does every year. At this point, as we near the end of the 117th Congress, it is also the only bill that can carry the EQUAL Act over the finish line.

In the pursuit of justice, we applauded the House sponsors of the EQUAL Act for adding its provisions into this year’s NDAA in an attempt to secure its passage. Unfortunately, Senator Chuck Grassley—the ranking Republican member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee—has maintained his disapproval of the EQUAL Act by thwarting its advancement to the Senate floor. In fact, he has submitted his own, less than equitable and considerably problematic alternative into the NDAA among other amendments counterproductive to eliminating injustice and racial disparity.  

Senator Grassley has a history of supporting criminal legal system reforms. In the late 1990s, he launched a successful statewide initiative to address Iowa’s drug addiction problems at the grassroots community level. Now is the time to tell Senator Grassley that we need to accept the evidence-based need for the EQUAL Act to be passed, now, together. We need this racially equitable bill and nothing short of it. 

While there are many provisions within the justice system that produce discriminatory and racist impacts, the crack/powder sentencing laws are among the most obvious. For many years now, science and experience have shown us there is no difference between use of crack or powder cocaine. Neither one is more or less addictive, nor produces more violent behavior in the user. The difference is that crack cocaine has historically been used in more urban communities of color, specifically Black communities, while powder cocaine has more often been found in whiter, more suburban communities. The racial implications couldn’t be clearer. Furthermore, the sentencing disparity between these two drugs has contributed significantly to the growth of mass incarceration in this country. According to FAMM, in 2019 alone, 81% of those convicted of crack cocaine offenses were Black, even though historically, 66% of crack cocaine users have been white or Hispanic. It is time to end this racist policy and restore proportionality in sentencing. 

As people of faith, we cannot continue to tolerate racial profiling, brutality and hyper-militarization in policing, the loss of future generations to mass incarceration, or the perpetuation of poverty. We affirm the truth that every person is entitled to dignity and equitable justice under law. As the 117th Congress comes to a close after two years of hard-fought progress and arduous midterm elections, this one-of-a-kind legislation is much needed in order for our nation to be as liberatory and equitable as it is on paper. Now is the time for the Senate to follow the House in taking a firm stance against racism embedded within the criminal legal system by assuring the EQUAL Act is kept in the Senate’s FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. 

If you live in Iowa, Add Your Name: Tell Senator Grassley to Support Fixing Racist Sentencing Disparities!

*If you know more Iowans to share this letter with, email the letter to them or post on Twitter or Facebook

Policing Bills Must Be Data-Driven Public Safety Solutions

The Time is Now for Data-Driven Public Safety Solutions

No More Unsafe Policing Bills. It’s Time For Data-Driven Public Safety Solutions

Min. Christian S. Watkins, Government Relations Advocate
August 30, 2022

We know what keeps us safe: environments where people of every color and background have fair wages, great schools, and affordable healthcare. When there are problems in our communities, they are addressed with proven solutions like social supports, investments in built design, increased educational opportunities, and housing equity. However, our country has mishandled public safety challenges with racist policies and practices that have made us all less safe and secure, like: hyper-militarized law enforcement of Black and Brown neighborhoods, overly aggressive — and sometimes deadly — policing tactics, mass incarceration, insufficient economic development, qualified immunity to shield bad police behavior, and tough-on-crime legislation.

Instead of taking responsibility for their failures, certain politicians want to divide and distract us by pointing the finger at the people and communities affected by the criminal legal system that they engineered to fracture our society. They draft bills with catchy, ‘get tough’ names, but negatively impact all of us — whether we are directly targeted or not. Two such bills, H.R.6448/S.3860 and H.R.6375/S.4287, are coming up for consideration this fall. NETWORK and our coalition partners strongly call for Members of Congress to vote against these proposed measures.

Policing Bill # Name and Sponsor Why They Are Harmful
H.R.6448/S 3860 Invest to Protect Act of 2022 (Sponsor Rep. Josh Gottheimer [D-NJ-5]) These bills would flood our streets with an additional 100,000 police officers, increase funding by $1B per year over five years, and increase the amount of surveillance and other relative equipment—further harming already marginalized communities.

Police bureaucracy would expand without concrete accountability measures. This further entrenches disrespect for our fundamental freedoms.

These bills would completely fail to adequately address the policies and practices at the root of community violence. Moreover, the holistic, evidence-based safety programs that have been proven (with research and data) to help our communities thrive, are not included.

H.R.6375/S 4287 COPS on the Beat Grant Program Reauthorization and Parity Act of 2022 (Sponsor Rep. Tom Rice [R-SC-7])


NETWORK is in coalition with a group of social justice and civil rights organizations that have issued a formal letter to House Leadership requesting that they not advance these bills. Read the letter here.

The most impacted people, of course, are those caught up in a criminal legal system primarily focused on harsh and inequitable punishment and lengthy incarceration (rather than rehabilitation and reintegration into society). But those of us on the outside looking in are harmed, too. We are conditioned to believe (consciously or subconsciously) that impacted people are the reason why their communities are unsafe. Bills like these, which racialize and vilify large swaths of people, often go unseen as a culprit in making life miserable.

In thinking this way, we not only fail to see how the laws are designed to impact a certain group of people; but we also devalue the diverse humanity and unique beauty that God bestows on all of Creation.

Law enforcement and elected officials use communities in distress as political pawns to appease and appeal to their voter bases. They signal that they are tough-on-crime by suppressing individual freedoms with policy that brings about outsized police interference. Isn’t this in conflict with the ideals of our Democratic Republic? I know that it is out of step with our sacred scriptures.

Advocate for Public Safety Strategies, Against Tough on Crime Legislation

All of us–Black or white, rich or poor, or republican or democrat–should live in safe and secure neighborhoods. People living in troubled neighborhoods that have obstacles to thriving lives because of racist economic policies and practices, should not be targeted for an outsized police presence. They don’t need more weapons. The deserve proven, safer, and life affirming strategies. Politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to promote tough-on-crime tactics to appease the electorate. What else can you do to help?

  • For decades, police have been allocated substantial funding without being held to concrete accountability measures. Let Congress know there can be no more bills like this.
  • Too often, citizens with mental health issues are incarcerated instead given proper medical treatment. Let Congress know this has to stop.
  • We’ve waged a war on drugs and have been tough on crime without results that keep people and communities free and safe. Let Congress know that policing bills must be rooted in public health and based on evidence-based investments – not on the rhetoric they think voters want to hear
  • Be an advocate for legislation that values the humanity of everyone in all of our communities, like these proposed in the House. NETWORK will let you know when it’s time to take action with a call or email to the House:
Evidence Proves Legislators Tough On Crime Police Measures Harm Our Communities and Don’t Keep Us Safe

Our country serves as the model of democracy around the globe, but sadly, our incarceration rate of 629 people per 100,000 means our country has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The U.S. rose to the top of this disturbing chart over the past four decades because of the proliferation of biased and ineffective tough-on-crime legislation. As the Sentencing Project reports, presently, there are two million people in the nation’s prisons and jails — a 500% increase over the last 40 years. Changes in sentencing law and policy, not changes in crime rates, explain most of this increase. Friends, think about this carefully: U.S. policing policy has driven the country to claim nearly 25% of the world’s total prison population but has failed to significantly reduce crime in our communities. What does this mean?

Despite what politicians and police tell you about the effectiveness of their tactics, decades of data has shown that ‘get tough’ policies have not made us safer. There is little correlation between high rates of ‘violent crime’ and incarceration rates and research from the Pew Charitable Trust dispels the theory that stiffer prison terms deter drug misuse, distribution, and other drug-law violations. I applaud Pews suggestion to policymakers: pursue research-based alternative strategies that work better and cost less. But, there’s more than the proper allocations of resources to consider.

Black lives hang precariously in danger because of the police. Among Black Americans, the rate of fatal police shootings between 2015 and August 2022 stood at 40 per million of the population, while for white Americans, the rate stood at 16 fatal police shootings per million of the population.

Dig Deeper: How did we get here?

Much of the carceral trauma inflicted on people and communities in modern times came after the passage of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (the crime bill). The legislation was passed with bipartisan support, in large part, to help Democrats appear tough-on-crime. Data leading up to the crime bill showed that people in urban areas needed employment opportunities and education, but Congress responded with jails and military grade weapons on our streets (How to Be An Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi, 2019).

Even before the crime bill inflicted harm with racially biased policing and mandatory drug sentencing guidelines, state and federal authorities waged 13 years of ‘get tough’ policies across the country that emphasized the use of incarceration for more offenders for longer periodsbut did not reduce the crime rate. And before that time period, a trio of U.S. presidents squarely aimed unjust crime policy at Black and Brown people.

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan declared that stronger law enforcement was needed to curb drug abuse. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared war on crime. Both policies sought to vilify the marginalized and addicted, not safeguard public welfare with policies that reflected mercy and justice as God calls for (Zechariah 7:9-10).

in 1971, President Richard Nixon’s used racial abuse as the basis of criminal legal system policy. This may have been suspected at the time, but it wasn’t until years later that his phony ‘War on Drugs’ was revealed as a political strategy designed to demonize political enemies.

We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did. (John Erlichmann, former Nixon domestic policy advisor, Harper Magazine).

Evidence Based Public Policy Legislation Is Vital to the Build Anew Agenda

NETWORK’s Build Anew agenda seeks a country where all people enjoy freedoms and thrive in God’s economy. Any bill that sprouts in the shadow of the 1994 Crime Bill violates our Spirited call for justice and equity.

We can’t be fooled into thinking that the same old policy is going to fix our policing and criminal legal system problems. NETWORK calls on Congress to stop the cycle of police funding bills that don’t work. Instead, advance policies rooted in public health and in evidence-based investments that will truly keep people safe. We know what keeps us safe. Together, we will make this a place where our rights are respected and where every one of us can live full and healthy lives, with no exceptions.

Links from this blog to read and share with your friends and family

NETWORK Advocates Participate in Lobby Day 2022

Justice-seekers Urge Congress to Make Sentencing Reforms

Catherine Gillette
July 13, 2021

94 NETWORK advocates from 14 states visited Senate offices at this year’s Virtual Lobby Day.  They engaged staff on their desire to have criminal legal reform bills, with special emphasis on sentencing reform. For their political ministry work, the advocates received training and briefs from NETWORK’s Grassroots Mobilization and Government Relations teams  in areas like:

Lobby Day Spotlight: The New York Team

The New York advocates were the largest group to participate.  The citizen lobbyists were organized by New York NETWORK Advocates Team Lead Jane S.B. who took the lead in coordinating and leading the lobby visits.  Other NY advocates included:

Danielle B., Faith C., Peter C., Marie C., Carol D., Catherine D., Virginia F., Mary H., Lois H., Bill H., Beth L., Serena L., Susan M., Jennifer .P., Jane S.B., Phyllis T., and Helen W.

The NY delegation also included NY-based NETWORK Partners: John Alexander (Voting and Anti-Racism Committee of Sisters of Charity JPIC office); Marina Fainchiled (Freedom Unshackled Coalition), Gloria Lavine (Elder at Prince’s Bay Refomed Church and Staten Island Council of Churches), Roni Minter (Founder of Freedom Unshackled and Sistas Healing Old Wounds), Dr. Cris Mogenson (Chaplain, Broome County Jail, Binghamton), Elder Chibueze Okorie (Minister of Evangelism and Director of Project Connect), Gary Van Kennen (President of NY State Council of Churches and member of Kairos Prison Ministries).

View Senate offices NETWORK’s citizen advocates visited. Are you interested in lobbying your Congressperson? Join Us!

[ninja_tables id=”29002″]

Eliminate Unjust Sentencing Disparities and Build Anew

We Can Eliminate Unjust Sentencing Disparities and Build Anew

We Can Eliminate Unjust Sentencing Disparities and Build Anew

NETWORK affirms that every person is entitled to dignity and equal justice under the law. Since the inception of President Nixon’s 1971 War on Drugs, federal policies have perpetuated the plagues of over-criminalization, mass incarceration, and increased police militarization. Extreme sentencing measures such as mandatory minimums and “three strikes” laws have led to the U.S. having the highest percentage of incarcerated people in the world.

More pointedly, for decades, the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses has contributed to our country’s shameful legacy of systemic racism and mass incarceration, despite being two forms of the same drug. If we hope to Build Anew, we must dismantle systemic racism, cultivate inclusive community, root our economy in solidarity, and ultimately transform our politics.

Second Chance Month Centers Redemption and Rehabilitation

On the heels of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Biden administration commemorated the month of April as Second Chance Month. President Biden granted pardons to three people and commuted the sentences of 75 people, all of whom have made efforts to rehabilitate themselves, including through educational and vocational training or drug treatment in prison. Additionally, the Administration has taken steps to offer “meaningful socioeconomic opportunities for redemption and rehabilitation to reduce recidivism and empower formerly incarcerated persons to become productive members of society, and to reduce crime, making our communities safer.”

President Biden sent his Administration’s inaugural National Drug Control Strategy to Congress at a time when drug overdoses have taken a heartbreaking toll, claiming 106,854 lives in the most recent 12-month period.* The Strategy delivers on the call to action in President Biden’s Unity Agenda through a whole-of-government approach to beat the overdose epidemic. The strategy includes an “Incarceration to Employment” policy that fosters expanding and improving second chance opportunities for formerly incarcerated persons, advances successful reentry outcomes that make our communities safer, disrupts cycles of economic hardship, and strengthens our economy.

What Congress Can Do?

With these bold steps taken by the Biden Administration, now is prime time for Congress to continue the work of taking meaningful steps towards making justice happen for thousands of currently and formerly incarcerated persons in our nation. We can eliminate unjust sentencing disparity by passing robust legislation that lends to redemption, rehabilitation, and, reconciliation and restoration of incarcerated persons back into community as productive members of society. Some of the bipartisan bills that have passed, or are being considered by, the House of Representatives, and are currently being considered by the Senate are:

  • The EQUAL Act (S.79) eliminates the unjust sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, and automatically authorizes resentencing of those previously convicted. In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which created a disparity between federal penalties for crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. The law required the same harsh penalties for the possession of one amount of crack cocaine and 100 times the same amount of powder cocaine, an inequitable handling of essentially the same drug. Decades later, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced that disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, and that reform was made retroactive in the First Step Act signed in 2018. Despite this reform, people continue to face longer sentences for offenses involving crack cocaine than for offenses involving the same amount of powder cocaine. This bill currently has a bipartisan list of 21 cosponsors and needs clean passage, acceptance of amendments would cause bill to go back to House for reconsideration.
  • The First Step Implementation Act (S.1014) is intends to cut adults’ and juveniles’ unnecessarily long federal sentences by (1) allowing courts to apply the 2018 First Step Act’s significant sentencing reform provisions to reduce sentences for those who committed their offenses prior to its enactment, (2) allowing courts to sentence below a mandatory minimum, (3) provide for sealing or expunging records of nonviolent juvenile offenses in some cases, and (4) requires the Attorney General to establish procedures to ensure only accurate criminal records are shared for employment-related purposes. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is the newest cosponsor of the bill as of April 25th, bringing the bipartisan list of supporters to ten.
  • The Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act (S.601) ends the perverse practice of federal courts considering acquitted or dismissed charges as aggravating factors when imposing sentences for convictions. Sen. Moran Jerry (R-KA) is the newest cosponsor of the bill as of April 25, bringing the bipartisan list of supporters to ten.
  • The COVID-19 Safer Detention Act (S.312) expands eligibility of at-home supervision to additional vulnerable, low-risk elderly prisoners, and expedites releases from federal prison during the continued COVID-19 pandemic by explicitly naming COVID-19 vulnerability as a basis for compassionate release. This bill currently has a bipartisan list of 8 cosponsors.

As the Biden-Harris administration noted in their Second Chance Month fact sheet, “Advancing successful reentry outcomes makes our communities safer, disrupts cycles of economic hardship, and strengthens our economy.” Passing these laws would make meaningful movement towards justice for thousands of currently and formerly incarcerated persons in our nation.

NETWORK Lobby enthusiastically celebrates Judge Jackson's nomination to the United States Supreme Court.

NETWORK Strongly Supports Confirmation of Judge Jackson to Supreme Court

NETWORK Strongly Supports Confirmation of Judge Jackson to Supreme Court

Ahead of this week’s nomination hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, NETWORK sent a letter strongly supporting her confirmation to the Supreme Court to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley.

Watch Judge Jackson’s nomination hearings here.

The letter asks Senators Durbin and Grassley to ensure a respectful, thorough, and swift confirmation process for Judge Jackson.

Judge Jackson’s work representing criminal defendants as well as her participation on the bipartisan Sentencing Commission is particularly meaningful from the Catholic tradition. As the letter explains,

The Gospels echo a sacred call proclaimed by the prophet Micah to act with both justice and mercy (Micah 6:8-9). During World Youth Day 2016, Pope Francis used the three parables in Luke Chapter 15—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son—as a model of Christian mercy, saying: “Our Lord’s mercy can be seen especially when he bends down to human misery and shows his compassion for those in need of understanding, healing and forgiveness.” Judge Jackson’s work to eliminate racial disparities in sentencing and other sentencing reforms as well as her call for robust public defense systems to ensure just, fair, and reliable outcomes demonstrate her profound regard for the humanity of defendants. This is Christian mercy in the public square.

As the Supreme Court regularly decides critical civil rights and civil liberties cases, Judge Jackson’s confirmation will lend an important perspective to the Court’s deliberations. Her more than 600 rulings reflect her dedication to being a fair-minded, even-handed jurist committed to equal justice for all. She has garnered respect and recognition across partisan and ideological lines, and received broad support from the Senate for several high-level appointments. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is undeniably qualified to serve on the highest court in the land.

Read the full text of the letter here.

Sign NETWORK’s letter to show your support for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination!

Tragedy of Amir Locke’s Death Demands Action from Our Elected Officials

Tragedy of Amir Locke’s Death Demands Action from Our Elected Officials

Min. Christian S. Watkins
February 18, 2022

On February 2, 2022, yet another Black person in the United States, 22-year-old Amir Locke, was shot and killed by the police. Amir Locke died with two wounds in the chest and one in the right wrist while lying on a couch just after 6:45 AM as Minneapolis Police Department and SWAT team members conducted a ‘no-knock’ warrant raid. Locke was not the subject of the warrant, and he should still be alive today. For how long must we wait for comprehensive policing systems reforms while Black and Brown lives lie in the wake?

This is yet another occurrence of police in the U.S. utilizing tactics that deny human dignity and sacred worth. Minneapolis was also home to George Floyd, who died while a police officer’s knee was placed on his neck for over 9 minutes, and Philando Castille, who was killed during an unwarranted traffic stop. Nationwide pleas for justice and meaningful change in the wake of Floyd and Castille’s deaths have seemingly gone unheard, unmet, unaddressed, as policing reform negotiations failed on Capitol Hill. Our elected officials on Capitol Hill and across the country must not fail to act now.

Cornell Law defines a “no-knock warrant” as, “A search warrant authorizing police officers to enter certain premises without first knocking and announcing their presence or purpose prior to entering the premises. Such warrants are issued where an entry pursuant to the knock-and-announce rule (i.e., an announcement prior to entry) would lead to the destruction of the objects for which the police are searching or would compromise the safety of the police or another individual.”

The ’no-knock’ raid that resulted in the death of Amir Locke is similar to what transpired with Breonna Taylor two years ago in Louisville, Kentucky. Ms. Taylor was an EMT who was shot and killed in her home during the execution of a no-knock warrant, of which she was not the intended focus. There is an ever-growing divide between law enforcement, local and federal government officials, and the public trust given the lack of action and transparency following so many deaths of Black people across the country at the hands of police.

Following Breonna Taylor’s death, activists have advanced  Breonna’s Law to end to the use of no-knock warrants, at the local, state, and federal level. However, more concrete steps and substantive legislation need to be enacted to make these changes real.

In solidarity with Amir’s parents, Andre Locke and Karen Wells, we ask for policing reform negotiations to resume, and for President Biden to include a federal ban on no-knock warrants as well as reforming the harmful 1033 and 1122 programs in his anticipated Executive Order on policing reform. As Democratic Senators Schatz, Wyden, Baldwin, Smith, Sanders, Brown, Van Hollen, Warren, Markey, and Casey recently wrote in a letter to President Biden, “Militarized law enforcement increases the prevalence of police violence without making our communities safer.”

A more perfect Union must establish justice in order to provide domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty that should be afforded us all. Congress and President Biden can – and must – implement these federal reforms to create a country where everyone, no matter our color, origin or gender, is safe and our human dignity is respected.

Learn About the Three Sentencing Reform Bills Moving Through the Senate

Learn About the Three Sentencing Reform Bills Moving Through the Senate

Min. Christian S. Watkins
February 11, 2022

Members of the US Senate are currently considering a package of three sentencing reform bills already approved on a bipartisan basis by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate passage of The First Step Implementation Act (S. 1014), the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act (S. 601), and the Covid-19 Safer Detention Act (S. 312) would make meaningful if incremental, progress toward a more just criminal legal system. Sentencing of those who have been found guilty of wrong-doing must be based on values that honor human dignity, sanctity, and the allowance for redemption. However, our system for sentencing those convicted of crimes has for too long borne no relation to these values, resulting in prisons that are heavily populated by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.

Over the last 30 years, the United States has come to rely on its criminal justice system and lengthy prison terms more than any other nation.  With just 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. holds nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners, including one-third of all women incarcerated worldwide.

The ACLU has reported [1] that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. In 2019, approximately 2.1 million people were in adult correctional jails and prisons around the United States. Many thousands of people, disproportionately people of color, are cycled in and out of state jails or prisons every day.

Extreme sentencing laws and practices are keeping people in prisons for far longer than ever before. The result is that more people are spending more of their lives in prison than at any point in U.S. history. Over-reliance on incarceration is fiscally unsustainable and has imposed a burdensome human toll and a disparate impact on African American and Latino persons and communities.

The federal prison population has increased nearly 800% since 1980 and more than doubled since 1994, with spending up 1700% during that time, and federal prisons are currently operating at 131% of capacity. This is due to a significant degree to the proliferation of mandatory minimum sentences.  Nearly half of all federal prisoners are serving sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. [2]

There is consensus across the political spectrum that our criminal justice system is out of balance and in need of significant reform. Many states have enacted bipartisan “smart-on-crime” reforms that achieve significant cost savings and reduce crime. Now, it is time for these reforms to be made at the federal level.


Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act of 2021 (S.79)

Introduced by Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) on January 28, 2021, this bipartisan legislation that seeks to eliminate the disparity in sentencing for cocaine offenses, established in 1986 when Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act–a major contributor to mass incarceration–and apply retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced. Congress set a 100:1 disparity, sentencing crack cocaine offenses at a higher level even though the drugs are nearly identical chemically and comparable in physiological and psychoactive effects. Although it did not address the disparity fully, Congress passed the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity to 18:1 for pending and future cases only. The change was not made retroactive until the bipartisan First Step Act of 2018.

Prospective Impact: The Sentencing Commission [3] estimates that approximately 827 offenders each year would benefit from this section of the bill.2 The current average sentence for those offenders is 74 months. The estimated new sentence for those offenders would be 43 months.

Retroactive Impact: Approximately 7,787 offenders in BOP custody would be eligible to seek a modification of their sentence based on this section of the bill. The Commission estimates that up to 7,644 offenders would receive a reduction in their sentence. [3] The current average sentence for these offenders is 173 months. The estimated new sentence for these offenders would be 100 months


First Step Implementation Act of 2021 (S. 1014)

Introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) on March 25, 2021, this bill would further the goals of the First Step Act of 2018 (FSA) by correcting unfairness that has resulted in implementation and interpretation errors that contravene the spirit of the FSA by:

  • Allowing courts to apply the FSA’s sentencing reform provisions to reduce sentences imposed prior to the enactment of the FSA;
  • Broadening the safety valve provision to allow courts to sentence below a mandatory minimum for nonviolent controlled substance offenses if the court finds the defendant’s criminal history over-represents the seriousness of the defendant’s criminal record and the likelihood of recidivism;
  • Allowing courts to reduce sentences imposed on juvenile offenders who have served more than 20 years;
  • Providing for the sealing or expungement of records of nonviolent juvenile offenses; and,
  • Requiring the Attorney General to establish procedures ensuring that only accurate criminal records are shared for employment-related purposes.


Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act of 2021 (S. 601)

Introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) on March 4, 2021, this bill would end the perverse practice under which federal courts consider acquitted or dismissed charges as aggravating factors when imposing sentences for convictions. It would do so by:

  • Amending 18 U.S.C. § 3661 to preclude a court of the United States from considering, except for purposes of mitigating a sentence, acquitted conduct at sentencing, and
  • Defining “acquitted conduct” to include acts for which a person was criminally charged and adjudicated not guilty after trial in a Federal, State, Tribal, or Juvenile court, or acts underlying a criminal charge or juvenile information dismissed upon a motion for acquittal.


Covid-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021 (S. 312)

Introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) on February 12, 2021, this bill would clarify and expand the eligibility for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program (introduced by the FSA), including explicitly naming COVID-19 vulnerability as a basis for compassionate release under this program. It would do so by:

  • Clarifying that the percentage of time served required for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program should be calculated based on an inmate’s sentence, including reductions for good time credits (H.R. 4018, which passed the House by voice vote last Congress);
  • Expanding the eligibility criteria for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program to include nonviolent offenders who have served at least two-thirds of their term of imprisonment;
  • Clarifying that elderly nonviolent D.C. Code offenders in BOP custody are eligible for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and that federal prisoners sentenced before November 1, 1987 are eligible for compassionate release;
  • Subjecting elderly home detention eligibility decisions to judicial review (based on the First Step Act’s compassionate release provision); and
  • Providing that, during the period of the pandemic, COVID-19 vulnerability is a basis for compassionate release and shortening the period prisoners must wait for judicial review for elderly home detention and compassionate release from 30 to 10 days.

There are too many people in prison serving unnecessarily long sentences.  These people are not a threat to the public and serving inhumanely long sentences actually reduces their chances of becoming productive law-abiding citizens.  We must support shorter sentences when appropriate.  These bills are not only appropriate, but also imperative.

Events of the past few years have illuminated the systemic inequalities in our country’s criminal legal system. At NETWORK, we cannot continue to tolerate racial profiling, police brutality, the loss of another generation to mass incarceration, or the perpetuation of poverty. As we Build Anew, we affirm the truth that every person is entitled to dignity and equal justice under law. It is time for Congress to act and take a firm stance against institutional racism embedded within the criminal legal system bypassing the First Step Implementation Act, the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act, and the Covid-19 Safer Detention Act.

[1] Sentencing Reform | American Civil Liberties Union (

[2] Federal Sentencing Reform (

[3] Prison and Sentencing Impact Assessment for the EQUAL Act of 2021 (

EQUAL Act Passes House

EQUAL Act Passes House!

Julia Morris
September 30, 2021

On September 28, the House overwhelmingly voted to pass the EQUAL Act 361 to 66! While there are many issues leading to racial disparities in the criminal legal system, passing the EQUAL (Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law) Act is a huge step forward to ending mass incarceration in the United States. The EQUAL Act (H.R.1693/S.79) is faithful, bipartisan legislation introduced by Representatives Kelly Armstrong (R-ND-AL), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-08), Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), and Don Bacon (R-NE-02). It seeks to eliminate the disparity in sentencing for cocaine offenses, a major contributor to mass incarceration, and apply retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced.

According to FAMM, in 2019 alone, 81% of those convicted of crack cocaine offenses were Black, even though historically, 66% of crack cocaine users have been white or Hispanic. It is time to end this racist policy and restore proportionality in sentencing.

This May, more than 100 justice-seekers participated in NETWORK’s first virtual lobby day, conducting 50 lobby visits with their Representatives to push for the passing of the EQUAL Act, it is always rewarding to see our hard work pay off.

Before the House vote, NETWORK sent a letter urging all Representatives to support this legislation, saying: “We call on all Representatives to take a firm stance against institutional racism embedded within the criminal legal system by voting yes on the EQUAL Act so that it can swiftly make its way to the Senate floor. ”

Read NETWORK’S Vote Recommendation on the EQUAL Act here.

Now it’s time for the Senate to pass this legislation. Sign up for our action alerts to join our team to put pressure on the Senate to pass this legislation. Text JUSTICE to 877-877 to sign up for text alerts or sign up for emails here.

Virtual Lobby Day: Dismantling Racism in Our Criminal Legal System

Virtual Lobby Day: Dismantling Racism in Our Criminal Legal System

Caraline Feairheller
June 1, 2021

On May 12, 2021, more than 120 justice-seekers from across the country went on 50 lobby visits to urge their Representatives to co-sponsor and vote YES on the EQUAL Act (H.R.1693). Thanks to you, our community of activists, the EQUAL Act now has ten new cosponsors – moving us closer to a criminal legal system that provides fair and equal justice under law!

For decades, the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses has contributed to our country’s shameful legacy of systemic racism and mass incarceration despite being two forms of the same substance. As Executive Director of New Hour for Women and Children Serena Ligouri said at the Lobby Day Kick-Off Rally, “It is by no mistake, in fact it is intentional that racism has continue to perpetuate disproportionate sentencing in the carceral system. It is no longer okay to let our legislators stand back and perpetuate this in our communities.” As we celebrate our advocates for educating our elected officials on the importance of the EQUAL Act, we know there is much more work to do.Mary J. Novak emphasizes how “being sentenced in today’s U.S. criminal legal system is essentially a life sentence if you consider the severe consequences economically, the disruptions in family life, the limited future access to employment, housing, voting, the stigma, the trauma to both the person incarcerated and that person’s family.” In order to build anew, Congress must pass legislation that lifts bans on housing assistance and other social safety net programs for those who have been released from incarceration.

Every person is made in the image and likeness of God and deserves respect, dignity, and equal justice under law. We must support each other in these challenging times and continue working to pass policies like the EQUAL Act and George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. This will help dismantle systemic racism, eliminate the wealth and income gap, improve the wellbeing of our communities, and allow all people to thrive.

Stay engaged and find more ways to take action to advance policies that build our systems and structures anew at

A Year After George Floyd’s Murder, Still Working for Policy Change

A Year After George Floyd’s Murder, Still Working for Policy Change

Caraline Feairheller
May 25, 2021

On the one-year anniversary since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Derek Chauvin, it remains clear that the criminal legal system will not self-correct. The racism embedded in the system continues to terrorize Black and brown communities across the nation. We cannot tolerate the loss of another life to police violence. In order to build anew, we must affirm that every person is made in the image of God and entitled to dignity and equal justice under law. This is a sacred responsibility. As Pope Francis reminds us, “we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

Since passing the House in the 117th Congress on March 3, 2021, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R.1280) has seen no action in the Senate. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is a crucial step in facilitating greater police accountability and towards dismantling the white supremacy in policing by ending long-held practices that allow law enforcement to murder Black people with impunity. The legislation:

  • Ends qualified immunity for law enforcement
  • Establish a national standard on use of force
  • Bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants at the federal level
  • Mandates data collection on encounters with law enforcement
  • Restricts police access to military-grade equipment
  • Improves federal laws to prosecute excessive force

Congress has a moral and civic duty to protect Black lives. NETWORK calls on the Senate to pass H.R.1280, The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act immediately.

Opportunities to remember George Floyd and act for racial justice:

  1. Call your Senators at 888-496-3502 and ask them to pass H.R.1280 the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
  2. Join the Sisters of Mercy in prayer at 2:00 PM Eastern.
    Register here.
  3. Mark the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death with prayer with Catholics 4 the Common Good – GA at 8:00 PM Eastern. Register here.
  4. Watch the George Floyd Memorial Foundation’s panel discussion From Protest to Policy.
  5. Follow the George Floyd Memorial Foundation to stay informed of their work on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
  6. Participate in the George Floyd Memorial Foundation’s Virtual Day of Action.