It also means that we’ve started collecting toys to donate to the National Women’s Prison Project’s annual toy drive. The Baltimore-based group collects toys to give to the children of incarcerated women during the holidays.
This wonderful toy drive also serves as an unpleasant reminder that the devastating consequences of mandatory sentencing extend far beyond those who are convicted and sentenced – they affect whole families and entire communities, and they affect children who aren’t old enough to understand why mommy won’t be home for Christmas, and those who are.
Having a parent in prison can have significant consequences for children, including an increased likelihood of being incarcerated themselves. Sadly, this is not an uncommon experience – according to the most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics data in 2007, 1.7 million children had an incarcerated parent, up 79 percent from 1991.
Now, we understand that when people violate the law there needs to be consequences. We understand that sometimes those consequences include incarceration. We also understand that having a child is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. However, as lawmakers continue to make policies that result in long, inflexible sentences, and as Congress considers adding even more mandatory minimums to the books, we hope that they will consider all of the consequences of these laws – the costs for taxpayers of incarcerating nonviolent, low-risk offenders for decades, the effects on public safety, the fairness of these policies for all people, and last, but certainly not least, the consequences for the littlest among us – those who know all too well what it is like to celebrate another Christmas, another New Year, without their mother or father.
By allowing judges to consider all of the facts of a case, all of the circumstances – good and bad – of a person’s life, perhaps fewer children will have to experience the holidays without their parents, and more parents will be able to see the joy on their children’s faces when they receive the best gift of all – a parent home in time for the holidays.
This holiday season, hundreds of families will be reunited with loved ones sooner than they originally thought due to the retroactive changes to the crack cocaine guidelines. This was a victory for justice and for families. We hope to have additional victories in the New Year that will allow more families to spend the holidays together. Stay tuned – you’ll be hearing from us in the New Year as we continue to fight hard to achieve these goals in 2012 and beyond.