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Cops are new prison reformers

LowDown

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"Too many people are behind bars that don't belong there," declared a group demanding major reforms to America's throw-'em-all-in-jail, mass imprisonment policies.

For nearly 50 years, politicians and prosecutors have pushed a no-mercy, "tough on crime" mantra, which has proven to be grossly unjust, exorbitantly expensive, counterproductive, and needlessly destructive to families and whole communities. "We need less incarceration, not more," the reform group recently proclaimed.

Of course, you'd expect the ACLU to urge a humane and just approach to crime and punishment — only, this is not the ACLU. Called Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, it's made up of 130 of our country's top crime fighters, including big-city police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors from coast to coast.

These are officials who've built careers on the harsh, autocratic practice of police sweeps and mass arrests — especially targeting impoverished communities of color. They know the difference between actually reducing crime and posturing as "crime-busters" by hoking up charges and hustling thousands of people into prisons for minor offenses.

When such a broad group steps forward to say they were wrong, that the rush to prison makes crime worse — that's a possible sea change in policing philosophy. Indeed, they're calling for 1) more alternatives to imprisonment, especially for addicts and the mentally ill; 2) reclassifying many non-violent crimes as misdemeanors and reforming ridiculous mandatory sentencing laws; and 3) a wholesale effort to repair the dangerous rift and loss of trust between police and the communities they're intended to serve.

As one of the group's leaders put it: "This is just common sense." To see the group's report and get involved in its promising push for reform, go brennancenter.org.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.

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