Editor: Thank you for initiating a discussion on fairness and the rights of formerly incarcerated people. In the new Netflix documentary “13th” by filmmaker Ava Duvernay, we learn that value is sorely missing in our current criminal justice system.
Our prison population has exploded, thanks in part to harsh drug laws. Not only are poor people less able to make bail, but also the 1980s drug offense sentencing guidelines have been stacked against them. The mandated minimum prison time for possession of only five grams of crack cocaine was the same as 500 grams of powder cocaine.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich says in the film: “we absolutely should have treated crack and cocaine as exactly the same thing. It was an enormous burden on the black community, but it also violates a sense of core fairness.” Prison reform advocates in the film urge us to reclassify drug abuse as a health issue, rather than a crime.
The film states one in 17 white men in the U.S. face incarceration, but one in three African American men face the same fate. On this issue of a racial double standard, Mr. Gingrich goes on to say: “The bottom line is, if you’re white in America, you have no idea what it is like to be black.”
According to Aug. 15 2013 The Washington Times, August 15, 2013, Mr. Gingrich said: “The United States stands above all for freedom, and yet we have by far the highest rate of incarceration in the world. …That’s why we should do everything we can, including sensible prison reform, to help more Americans learn to live in freedom.”
Restoring voting rights after time served is just one part of the solution to achieve even a modicum of fairness.
Regine de Toledo