June 19, 2009
Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree ’78 testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs in June on the proposed National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009, telling the subcommittee the bill would address “severe inequities in the criminal justice system.”
Watch the webcast of the hearing.
The bill, proposed by Sen. Jim Webb and co-sponsored by the subcommittee chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, aims to re-focus incarceration policies on criminal activities that threaten public safety; lower the incarceration rate, prioritizing public safety, crime reduction, and fairness; and decrease prison violence. The bill also aims to improve prison administration; establish meaningful re-entry programs for former offenders; reform drug laws; improve treatment of the mentally ill; and improve responses to international and domestic criminal activity by gangs and cartels.
In his testimony, Ogletree applauded the bill’s creation of a “bipartisan blue ribbon commission to study all aspects of our criminal justice system” and said it would “promote reform of antiquated criminal justice methods at every conceivable level.”
After briefly noting the relevant work of HLS’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, of which he is the founder and executive director, Ogletree discussed the current criminal justice system’s critical features, including its “sheer magnitude, the issue of racial disparities, exorbitant costs and stunning rates of failure.” He spoke about the factors, structural and historic, that created and continue to fuel the system, and said the commission to study it is “urgently needed now.” In concluding, he pointed to the effect of the criminal justice system on individual lives, commenting, “A system that routinely chooses to throw away the lives of its young people who have made mistakes, but could become productive citizens, is a system that has lost its moral compass.”
An expert on race and criminal justice, Ogletree is the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law. He is the author of several books and articles, including his most recent book, “From Lynch Mobs to the Killing State: Race and the Death Penalty in America.”