WASHINGTON, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- A coalition of over 130 U.S. police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors has called for a reduction in the country's incarceration rate.
The group, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, includes prominent law enforcement figures, including New York Police Department Chief William J. Bratton and his counterparts in Chicago, Garry F. McCarthy, and Los Angeles, Charlie Beck. It also has the backing of groups as diverse as Koch Industries and the NAACP, and presents a vision different from the traditional tough-on-crime approach to law enforcement normally ascribed to police leaders.
"With momentum for criminal justice reform accelerating, we want to leave no doubt where the law enforcement community stands: We need less incarceration, not more, to keep all Americans safe," a statement from the group, released Wednesday, said. It urges Congress and state legislatures to change laws, reduce certain penalties and address a criminal justice system which costs $80 billion per year to maintain and has resulted in one of the world's highest incarceration rates.
"After all the years I've been doing this work, I ask myself, 'What is a crime, and what does the community want?' When we're arresting people for low-level offenses — narcotics — I'm not sure we're achieving what we've set out to do. The system of criminal justice is not supporting what the community wants. It's very obvious what needs to be done, and we feel the obligation as police chiefs to do this," McCarthy noted.
The group identified its priorities as increasing the number of mental health and drug treatment facilities, reclassifying crimes and changing mandatory sentencing laws.
The group has the attention of the White House. Several members will meet with President Barack Obama Thursday in a White House discussion on reforming the criminal justice system. Obama will speak to the International Association of Chiefs of Police at its Chicago conference next week.