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NACDL - National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Feb 08, 2023

On the 50 Year Anniversary of the Mass Incarceration Era, NACDL calls for Reflection and Reform – 

Washington, DC (Feb. 8, 2023)– In 2023, NACDL and advocates across the country are commemorating 50 years of America’s unjust, discriminatory, and ineffective policy of mass incarceration. Over five million people are under supervision by the criminal legal system. Nearly two million people, disproportionately Black, are living in jails and prisons  instead of their communities, a 500% increase since 1973. NACDL has joined a public education campaign alongside a wide-ranging group of advocates, experts, and partners to raise awareness about the dire state of the country’s criminal legal system and devastating impact of incarceration. Learn more about the "50 Years and a Wake Up: Ending the Mass Incarceration Crisis in America" campaign.

Over the past 50 years, NACDL has fought against the egregious policies of overcriminalization, harsh sentencing, prosecutorial and law enforcement misconduct, and racial discrimination that destroy the lives of individuals swept into the system, devastate families, and damage communities. NACDL’s projects confront the causes and impact of mass incarceration from all sides. Specifically, the Association works to:

  • Battle Overcriminalization: NACDL organizes projects such as the Task Force on the Criminalization of Pregnancy and Reproductive Health; authors reports on the issue of overcriminalization; conducts trainings and advocacy geared toward drug overdose homicide laws and prosecutions; combats the War on Drugs; educates on the need for misdemeanor reform; and more.
  • Defend Public Defense and the Right to Counsel: NACDL’s initiatives include public defender trainings, public education, and legislative advocacy to support the development of effective public defense systems.
  • Expose Police Misconduct: The recently completed Full Disclosure Project empowered the defense community to track police misconduct by disrupting the culture of secrecy that systematically and pervasively shields prosecutor and law enforcement misconduct.
  • Fight for Our Right to Trial: NACDL is a lead organizer in a coalition addressing the trial penalty, the substantial difference between the sentence put forward in a plea offer before trial versus the sentence an individual receives after trial. This coalition will oppose the trial penalty on all fronts, including the prosecutorial practice of coercing guilty pleas from people accused of crimes by threatening extreme punishments if they exercise their Constitutional right to take their case to trial. 
  • Recognize and Redress Racial Disparities: NACDL remains committed to examining and elevating the issue of racial discrimination in the criminal legal system through programming and trainings; reports; and other ongoing projects.
  • Restore Rights: NACDL’s efforts aimed at examining and alleviating the collateral consequences of a conviction include expanding expungement eligibility and promoting "clean slate" reforms that automate the expungement process; partnering with community organizations to host expungement clinics; promoting reforms to restore the right to vote and to serve on a jury; fighting the rise of voter prosecutions; and promoting other second chance opportunities at the state and federal level. 
  • Return Incarcerated Individuals to Freedom: The Return to Freedom Project helps those languishing in prison by partnering with different organizations to recruit, train, and support pro bono attorneys as they assist in providing back-end relief, such as clemency and compassionate release. 
  • Safeguard Privacy: The Fourth Amendment Center seeks to ensure that the Fourth Amendment remains a vibrant protection against encroachments on the privacy of the individual through litigation and public advocacy, offering direct assistance to lawyers defending cases involving new surveillance tools, technologies, and tactics. Take a Second Look at Sentencing: NACDL’s "Second Look" Sentencing model legislation provides a vehicle that legislatures can use to safely reduce the number of individuals serving excessive, counter-productive sentences by permitting individuals to petition for resentencing after serving a specified period of time in prison.

Learn more about these projects and their impacts on mass incarceration.

"Since the era of mass incarceration began, criminal defense attorneys have been on the front lines of the fight, waging the battle in the courtroom, the policy arena, and beyond," said NACDL President Nellie L. King. "We know firsthand the impact these policies have on the individuals we represent, their families, their communities, and the entire criminal legal system that purports to keep us safe. It’s time to end 50 years of mass incarceration policy failure which disproportionately impacts communities of color."

"When we use the term mass incarceration, we’re talking about mass harm that extends well beyond prison walls," said NACDL Executive Director Lisa Wayne. "It’s impossible to measure 50 years of shattered lives. Whether through life sentences or lifelong loss of rights, the scope of harms that an incarceration-centric criminal legal system causes is unimaginable, unsustainable, and unconscionable." 

This article was syndicated from the NACDL website and originally appeared on:

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NACDL - National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Founded in 1958, NACDL is the largest organization for criminal defense lawyers fighting to preserve fairness within America's criminal justice system. The organization has more than 10,000 direct members including criminal defense attorneys in private practice, public defenders in state or federal court, U.S. military defense counsel, law professors and judges.