We made a lot of progress in 2012 in the fight to end overincarceration, as voters and lawmakers alike demonstrated that America may finally be waking up from its destructive and costly ”tough on crime” stupor. Some of the most dramatic examples of this shift in public opinion were the marijuana policy wins in Washington and Colorado, which showed that sensible drug law reform is not only necessary, but achievable. Connecticut abolished capital punishment and although California voters disappointingly rejected this year’s proposal to replace the death penalty with life without parole, public opinion there is unquestionably shifting in the right direction.
Throughout the year, the ACLU was in legislatures across the country promoting smart criminal justice reforms aimed at safely reducing jail and prison populations and dismantling the devastating and ultimately ineffective war on drugs. We were in court fighting abusive police practices and inhumane prison and jail conditions. And we have been relentless in our efforts to end America’s attachment to its cruel and racially discriminatory capital punishment system.
All of these efforts bode well for the fight against overincarceration and overly punitive sentencing, but we must remain vigilant. The truth is that while the nation is finally beginning to reckon with its addiction to incarceration, it is going to take a lot more work and political will to advance the kinds of reforms necessary to achieve a just and fair criminal justice system. Broad-based, strategic coalitions are required to create sustained demand for true systemic reform. We look forward to working with all of you to get the job done in 2013 and beyond.