Senator Mitch McConnell must support sentencing reform

Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhy the Democrats need Joe Manchin Out-of-touch Democrats running scared of progressives The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bipartisan group reaches infrastructure deal; many questions remain MORE has a long and consistent history of supporting civil rights and racial justice. Last year he called the Confederate flag “a painful reminder of racial oppression” and said “it’s time to move beyond it.”

He defied his own party to vote in favor of confirming Loretta Lynch, the nation’s first African American woman attorney general. His record reflects his upbringing – his parents were “enlightened southerners” who were involved in the National Urban League – and his education as an intern for Senator John Sherman Cooper, a Republican who broke with his party and voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

McConnell has an opportunity to bolster his legacy this year by holding a vote on sentencing reform. Failure to do so would be a blot on an otherwise admirable record. Sentencing reform is critical to communities of color. African Americans have suffered disproportionately under the failed policies of the war on drugs, with Black men making up 13 percent of the overall population, but 40 percent of the prison population.

With 5 percent of the world’s population, yet an astounding 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population, the United States is the world’s largest jailer, by far. At the cost of $30,000 per inmate, per year, our nation is not only bankrupting our citizen’s futures, but also our budgets. Instead of housing non-violent inmates, we could be allocating those funds for infrastructure or education; we could be improving our nation’s future. Sentencing reform is a chance to right the wrongs of the past and free our brothers and sisters.

I have had many opportunities to meet with Senator McConnell, and while we have disagreed on some issues he has always given me a fair hearing. I continue to have faith in his commitment to civil rights and racial justice and urge him to support legislation that will truly reform the sentencing process in this country. Sentencing reform is supported by members if the majority and minority parties, but instead of the issue being prioritized and fast-tracked, it’s been obstructed by Senators like Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonOvernight Defense: Austin and Milley talk budget, Afghanistan, sexual assault and more at wide-ranging Senate hearing Cotton, Pentagon chief tangle over diversity training in military Media continues to lionize Anthony Fauci, despite his damning emails MORE (R-AR) who has offensively claimed the U.S. has an “under incarceration” problem.

McConnell is above such inflammatory rhetoric, and previously has said that criminal justice reform is an important issue for him. Bringing sentencing reform legislation to a vote during the lame duck session would be a powerful demonstration of his commitment to justice. For the benefit of our communities, and this nation as a whole, Senator McConnell must allow a bill to move.

Morial is an American political and civic leader and the current president of the National Urban League. Morial served as mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002. Follow him on Twitter @MARCMORIAL

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