(New York City) — Howie Hawkins and the Green Party are calling for clemency for nonviolent drug offenders and the legalization of drugs starting with marijuana, as part of the gubernatorial campaign's criminal justice reform platform.
“It’s time to free the prisoners of the war on drugs,” declared Green Party governor candidate Howie Hawkins as he and the party’s attorney general candidate and Bronx-based people’s lawyer Ramon Jimenez spoke in front of Manhattan Criminal Court. “Clemency for nonviolent drug offenders and legalization are two key steps towards the necessity of turning back the New Jim Crow and ending mass incarceration.”
“We need clemency for non violent drug offenders in New York State,” Hawkins said. “The misguided war on drugs is so fraught with racial bias that it has put a debilitating lifelong stigma on a large percentage of communities of color. That is why we need clemency, and expungement of these records now.”
“Every aspect of the criminal justice system has to be questioned. And we need to start with the damage that unjust drug arrests have brought upon those swept up by the unconstitutional stop and frisk madness of the Bloomberg/Kelly Years,” Ramon Jimenez said. “We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people, mostly youths, who have been victims of the war on drugs in New York. Without expungement these unjust arrests impede the ability to go to school, get financial aid and even having somewhere to live.”
A hugely disproportionate number of drug arrests are from the African American and Latino communities. Blacks and whites use illegal drugs at the same rates, but black men are 11 times more likely than white men to be incarcerated for a drug offense in New York State. 18% of the state population is black, but 68% of the drug admissions to prison are black. 18% of the state population is Latino, but 26% of drug admissions to prison are Latino. African-Americans and Latinos comprise over 94% of the drug offenders in New York State prisons.
“It is long past time to reform the criminal justice system and to treat drug abuse as a health issue, not a criminal problem,” said Hawkins. “The drug policy is destroying lives and communities. We must stop discriminating against individuals once they are released from jail in terms of their employment and their ability to obtain public benefits such as public housing and discrimination in employment. We must enact a ‘Ban the Box’ law to stop the practice of automatically disqualifying qualified job applicants because of criminal records.”
Besides calling for clemency, legalization and expungement of records Hawkins and Jimenez want to see the appointment of a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission charged with examining and addressing the impact of the War on Drugs and Mass Incarceration in New York State, including the devastating and lingering impact on people and communities of color. The Commission would assess the impact, hear from the people affected, and recommend policies to end mass incarceration and repair its damages.