Center for Justice Research Director Provided Expert Testimony Before House Judiciary Subcommittee

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Center for Justice Research

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HOUSTON (March 11, 2021) – Founding Director of the Center for Justice Research Dr. Howard Henderson appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security to provide expert testimony on federal drug policies impacting Black communities. Dr. Henderson’s testimony underscored the Center for Justice Research’s mission to reduce mass incarceration, which can directly result from unjust drug policy, through culturally-responsive, evidence-supported solutions.

The hearing focused on the federal policies and law enforcement of controlled substances in the U.S. Dr. Henderson’s testimony offered an evolutionary overview of the federal government’s approach to drug addiction and the subsequent biased incarceration mandates.

“Federal drug policy has deep historical and institutional roots that predate the 1960s. In the current testimony, I posit that contemporary American federal drug policy, and its relationship to racial inequality, is only the latest chapter in an unremitting narrative of which the drug legislation constitutes the middle ground of a race and class-stratified social order. In other words, this inequality has emerged from the dialectical production and reproduction of racist logic as part of the broader culture of control,” stated Dr. Henderson.

“Federal drug policy in the United States continues to perpetuate systems of inequality and domination that, in many ways, mirror Jim Crow-like forms of control and ultimately violate basic human rights. As the line between drug legislation and plantation-style justice has become increasingly blurred in recent decades, federal drug policies have helped create, recreate and manage a racialized ‘problem population’ or ‘dangerous class’ pushed to the margins of the labor market and political priority. In essence, these policies have helped to maintain the ‘color line,’” concluded Dr. Henderson.

The testimony also suggested an equity-based framework for reframing national drug policies.

When asked by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas to recommend evidence-based and data-driven policy priorities to reduce historical racial disparities that generate mass incarceration, Dr. Henderson responded, “We can start with decriminalizing marijuana. We can also start with the notion behind federal drug legislation in terms of the way we schedule these drugs. More importantly, we need to reframe our thinking around the drug problem. We need to remove the drug situation from the criminal justice system and place it directly into the public health arena.”

Then, when asked by Rep. Val Butler Demings of Florida to comment on the effectiveness of alternative programs to incarceration, Dr. Henderson replied, “The LEAD [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion] program allows officers to divert individuals to treatment and social services. The model that was piloted in Seattle has yielded significant positive results. Individuals who have been diverted to these programs have been found to be almost 60% less likely to be rearrested when you compare them to individuals who went through traditional criminal justice programs. We know it works. The challenge that we have now is getting people to begin to adopt an alternative philosophy to social control.”

Other witnesses that appeared with Dr. Henderson before the subcommittee included:

  • Nicole M. Austin-Hillery, Esq. – Executive Director, U.S. Program, Human Rights Watch
  • Katharine Neill Harris, Ph.D. – Alfred C. Glassell, III, Fellow in Drug Policy, Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy
  • Derek Maltz – Former Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Justice

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About the Center for Justice Research, Barbara Jordan – Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, and Texas Southern University

The Center for Justice Research is committed to creating justice reform-oriented solutions for the reduction of mass incarceration by connecting and applying academic thought to practical challenges. As a university-level research center, the Center for Justice Research provides a culturally responsive approach to mass incarceration and to criminal justice reform. Our targeted research advances data-driven solutions by supporting innovation, collecting committed reformers, compelling policy arguments and engendering broad consensus amongst community stakeholders.

The mission of the Barbara Jordan – Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs is to serve as an urban-focused community of learning dedicated to educating professionals who will plan and administer environmentally healthy and sustainable communities at the local, state, national and international levels of society.

Texas Southern University (TSU) is a student-centered, comprehensive doctoral university in the heart of Houston’s historic Third Ward. Texas Southern’s academic and research curricula are committed to ensuring equality, offering innovative programs that are responsive to its urban setting, and transforming diverse students into lifelong learners, engaged citizens, and creative leaders in their local, national, and global communities. TSU offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate programs and concentrations – bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and professional degrees – organized into 10 colleges and schools. Texas Southern has been a distinguished educational pioneer since 1927.

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