Celebs Put Star Power Behind Prison Reform

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on October 27, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In this culture, when celebrities talk, people listen. That is why Russell Simmons and about 100 other stars are joining in a prison reform campaign. The goal is to cut the American prison population by half over the next ten years.

Comedian Amy Schumer, actor Ed Norton, and the author of Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman, are all also on the list of popular figures joining in the fight for prison reform. Called #cut50, the campaign aims to shift the alarming statistics on American incarceration. With less than 5 percent of the world's population, the US has 25 percent -- or one quarter -- of the world's prisoners.

Drug War Devastation

"Our broken criminal justice system harms more than it helps and wastes $80 billion a year. Americans are ready to fix it. Now it's up to the national leaders in both parties to answer this call by passing strong federal legislation," Van Jones, co-founder of the #cut50 campaign, told the Drug Policy Alliance.

Sentencing reform legislation drafted by a bipartisan committee was introduced in the Senate early this month and it does call for concrete fixes. Among the proposed reforms would be reduced mandatory minimum sentences for many drug crimes.

This is significant because it is estimated that about half of US prisoners are in for drug crimes. Reducing mandatory minimums for non-violent offenses means there is more money available for law enforcement and less devastation in communities disproportionately impacted by the drug war.

"I know that the most horrible thing that's happened to black people since Jim Crow is the War on Drugs," Russell Simmons told NBC News. Simmons worked on drug reform in New York before and his efforts helped lead to the signing of a Drug Law Reform Act in 2009.

Simmons on Star Power

Russell Simmons explained why celebrities should create awareness of the #cut50 campaign. "Because when pop culture gets involved, things happen. Getting the right people in pop culture to support this effort means everything ... If you have celebrity, you should use it for something."

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