In 2010, 49-year-old Bernard Noble, a father of seven, was caught with the equivalent of two joints worth of marijuana. He is now serving more than 13 years behind bars in Jackson Parish Correctional Center in Jonesboro, Louisiana. Mr. Noble has no chance of parole. The State Board of Pardon and Parole rejected his petition for clemency because state law requires inmates to serve a minimum of 10 years before clemency is considered.
Mr. Noble will miss birthdays, graduations, weddings and other milestones in his children and family’s lives. Mr. Noble, among many others, is a prime example of the contribution our criminal justice system makes to the ballooning prison population by sentencing nonviolent offenders to long mandatory minimum sentences. Sadly, America has this unseemly habit of locking away humans for minor offenses, a terrible practice for a country that prides itself on the freedom, justice and liberty for all.
America is addicted to mass incarceration. Apart from housing serious criminals, our prisons and jails have become a dumping ground for drug addicts, people with nonviolent drug offenses and people with mental illness. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as of Aug. 29, 2015, 48.4 percent of the prison population is drug offenders.
In the past, our society made prisons the consequence for all crimes no matter how big or small. However, that has proven to be ineffective and detrimental to our communities. Furthermore, a majority of Americans would agree that federal and states prisons are not the places for drug addicts and people with mental illness.
After these nonviolent offenders serve hard time for minor offenses, the door to their world closes. It becomes next to impossible to get a job. The idea of turning their life around and becoming a productive citizen is taken away. They are forever seen and labeled as ex-cons; the outcasts of society.
Federal mandatory minimum sentencing of drug crimes have had a detrimental impact on our society. Reform is needed. The current makeup of our jail and prison population reflects society’s disregard for issues that are deeply rooted in our communities, namely poverty and racism. These issues have now spilled over into the criminal justice system.
Yes, America has a mass incarceration problem. However, this problem cannot be fixed until we address the issues that continue to plague our communities.
Submitted by Wiha Powell