"Criminal justice reform is one of the civil rights imperatives of our time, and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans is pleased that the Senate Judiciary Committee today reported the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act with a strong bipartisan vote,” said National Director Christopher Kang. “This legislation is an important step in moving our country toward a system that is more rooted in restorative justice, rehabilitation, and fairness—especially in reforming mandatory minimum sentences—and we urge Congress to pass it before the end of the year."
The United States has the largest prison population in the world, and according to data collated by the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), the incarceration rate of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) quadrupled between 2000 and 2010. Unfortunately, there is limited data with respect to AAPIs, who are often grouped into a category of “other,” and disaggregated data is even more scarce—and necessary. But the data that does exist clearly demonstrates that criminal justice reform will impact the AAPI community. For example, Samoan and Vietnamese youth have some of the highest arrest rates of any ethnic group in San Francisco County, and in Oakland, California, in 2006, Samoans had the highest arrest rate of any racial/ethnic group in the city at 140 per 1,000, while Cambodians (63 per 1,000), Laotians (52 per 1,000) and Vietnamese (28 per 1,000) also had high rates of arrest. These rates are attributable in part to barriers to educational attainment, such higher rates of poverty and language barriers, and trauma and mental health issues that also must be addressed.
Criminal justice reform is necessary for the AAPI and all immigrant communities because criminal violations—large and small—may lead to deportation. Southeast Asian Americans (SEAAs) are 3-4 times more likely to be deported on the basis of an old criminal conviction compared with other immigrant communities. More than 1,500 Cambodian Americans alone—many with strong, long-lasting ties to their communities—face deportation, and more than 500 already have been deported to Cambodia. This legislation is just part of the effort to stop the school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline, and NCAPA organizations such as SEARAC and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) will continue to be leaders with local grassroots organizations in this effort.
Overall, more than 60% of those currently incarcerated are racial and ethnic minorities. NCAPA is proud to join the broader racial justice movement in addressing the injustices and inequities faced by all communities of color.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote today demonstrates that bipartisanship is still alive and that important reform is still possible. We urge the full Senate and House to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act without delay and to consider further measures necessary to reform our criminal justice system.
Based in Washington, D.C., the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans is a coalition of 35 national Asian Pacific American organizations that serves to represent the interests of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) communities and to provide a national voice for our communities’ concerns. Our communities are the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the United States, currently making up approximately six percent of the population.