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End Mass Criminalization (20)

As the Senate prepares to take up changes to federal sentencing and parole guidelines, some Republicans and Democrats break from their parties' traditional stances.

For decades the Republican Party prided itself for being tough on crime, often putting Democrats on the defensive by pushing for longer, mandatory sentences for convicts.

In a move that could result in the prison release of hundreds or thousands of low-level drug offenders, the Justice Departmentsaid Monday that it will advise President Obama to widen his guidelines for granting clemency.

The announcement, immediately praised by advocates for reform of the criminal justice system, is part of the administration’s effort to reduce the nation’s prison population and address racial disparities in drug sentencing.

Attorney General Eric Holder this week called on states to do away with arcane laws that prohibit more than 6 million felons, most of whom are people of color, from voting in a speech at Georgetown University Law Center. "Those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished, and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives," Holder said in the speech. "They could not vote."

Robinson was luckier than many vets, 22 of whom take their own lives every day in the U.S. according to a study released bythe VA. He found relief in an alternative form of medicine, which more and more veterans are advocatingfor the right to consume: cannabis.

While participating in a cycling program through the VA, Robinson learned that many fellow cyclists had chosen to take themselves off of VA medications and use pot to treat their symptoms instead. He followed suit. Two years later he helped to form the local cooperative California Veterans Medicine, which provides medical marijuana at no cost to service-connected injured veterans. Cal Vet Meds’ activities are governed by the state of California and operate in compliance with the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (Prop. 215) and Senate Bill 420.

Christopher Williams believes that one little box changed the trajectory of his life.

Williams has been to prison more than once. When he was inside, he tried to prepare himself for the outside, for a chance to move on from the thing for which he’d done his time, by participating in job training programs and GED classes. But when he got out, that box — the box on job applications that asks if the applicant has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime — stopped him in his tracks.

Winning praise from civil rights advocates, the U.S. Department of Education released new federal guidelines Wednesday aimed at stopping an explosion in student suspensions, expulsions and referrals to the criminal-justice system.

The Marijuana Policy Project — the largest financial backer of the Colorado legalization initiative — will support efforts to pass similar laws regulating marijuana like alcohol in 13 more states by 2017.

On January 10, 1965, the beat poet Allen Ginsberg led a march for marijuana legalization outside the New York Women’s House of Detention in lower Manhattan. A dozen demonstrators waved placards and chanted slogans, resulting in one of the iconic images of the 1960s: a picture of Ginsberg, snowflakes on his beard and thinning hair, wearing a sign that said "Pot Is Fun." Another picket sign read "Pot Is a Reality Kick."

Following the success of their initial series last summer, a coalition of civil rights groups is partnering again for a 10-city tour of Virginia to raise awareness around justice issues that affect people with criminal records, and to provide direct services. Called the Mobile Justice Tour, the event re-launches on Saturday, December 14, with a focus on three key issues: civil rights restoration for citizens with felony convictions, removing questions about an applicant’s criminal background from initial employment forms, and sentencing reform to end mass incarceration in Virginia.

A leading law and policy institute unveiled a new proposal to reform the federal government’s largest criminal justice funding program. The Brennan Center for Justice's new proposal, Reforming Funding to Reduce Mass Incarceration, sets out a plan to link federal grant money to modern criminal justice goals – as a tool to promote innovative crime-reduction policies nationwide.

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