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WASHINGTON – The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the ACLU, and #cut50 released new PSAs featuring the cast and creators of the WGN TV show Underground calling on Congress to tackle mass incarceration by ending the racially discriminatory War on Drugs.


Participating cast and creators include Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Amirah Vann, Alano Miller, Aldis Hodge, Misha Green, and Joe Pokaski.

Last year, 100+ celebrities and dozens of civil rights, criminal justice, and faith organizations joined the campaign for #JusticeReformNOW, urging Congress to pass historic, bipartisan federal legislation that would begin to fix the U.S. criminal justice system.

“More Black men are in prison or jail and on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began,” said Van Jones, co-founder of #cut50. “Millions of Americans, primarily black and Latino men, are being sentenced to years upon years in prison for low-level crimes. Their communities are robbed of their talents and potential, all while we spend billions on punishment instead of rehabilitation. We have to end this injustice, and that starts with Congress.”

“It is clear that our criminal justice system is broken and in dire need of reform,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Wade Henderson

“Our federal prisons are overcrowded with a population that is disproportionately Black and Latino, and not because they commit crimes at a higher rate. They are all too often the end result of a flawed system where mandatory minimum sentencing laws distort a just outcome. It is the certainty of a sentence, not the length, that serves as a deterrent, and those sentences must be both fair and just. Wasting resources simply to keep people locked up does not enhance public safety, nor is it a wise use of the taxpayer’s money. During the last Congress, there was a sincere bipartisan effort to correct this egregious problem. We urge the current Congress to act now.”

“Our country has become addicted to incarceration, sending millions of people into our jails and prisons who in many cases don’t belong there,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office.

Jesselyn McCurdy

“Communities of color are especially burdened by our dependence on incarceration. Due to the failed War on Drugs and a misplaced trust in the so-called ‘tough on crime’ approach, we have inflated our sentencing laws to draconian levels, wasting lives and resources. We need less incarceration and more pragmatic strategies focused on prevention and rehabilitation.”

“All Americans should be deeply concerned about the ways the current criminal justice system disproportionately affects people of color. Disparities span every step in the criminal justice system, from policing to prison. Nearly three quarters of federal drug offenders sentenced under mandatory minimums were Black or Hispanic and more than 60% of incarcerated people nationwide are racial minorities.” said Jessica Jackson, National Director of #cut50.

Jessica Jackson

“But the failure of this system extends beyond prison walls. Incarceration affects employment, housing, voting, and educational opportunities. All across the country in Red and Blue states alike, comprehensive criminal justice reforms are passing with strong bipartisan support and firm backing from voters. Congress lags far behind. It’s time for DC to catch up.”

Over the past 40 years, the War on Drugs has devastated entire communities through the systematic over-sentencing of low-level offenses and criminalization of individuals suffering from drug addiction mostly targeting urban communities. This is especially evident in the federal criminal justice system, where nearly 50% of people in federal prison are there for drug-related offenses.

A poll commissioned by Pew Charitable Trusts last year shows that Americans across party lines and demographics overwhelmingly agree: the prison population should be dramatically reduced, there should be reforms to mandatory minimum sentencing, and our criminal justice system needs to provide greater opportunities for rehabilitation and treatment.

#cut50, The Leadership Conference, and the ACLU are encouraging supporters to add their voice to the campaign by calling their members of Congress and tweeting using #JusticeReformNOW to highlight why they support criminal justice reform.

Fast Facts on the Mass Incarceration Crisis in America:

  • Research shows that people commit crimes at roughly equal levels across ethnic groups, but African Americans and Latinos make up 70% of the federal prison population — despite being only 27% of the U.S. Population.
  • More Black men are imprisoned, on probation, or on parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.
  • 1 in every 3 Black men can expect to spend time behind bars

The PSAs can be viewed here.

#cut50 is an initiative of The Dream Corps, an organization that links economic, environmental and criminal justice innovators inside a single organization, and supercharges their strategies with world-class partnerships, smart digital tools and national media access.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference, visit www.civilrights.org.


For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been our nation’s guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and the laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country. A significant component of the ACLU’s overall criminal justice work, the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, comprehensive nationwide, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The ACLU is committed to this goal until the job is done.