Arguing that spending on prisons is out of control, civil rights leaders gathered in San Francisco today to unveil a campaign in support of federal legislation to review the nation’s criminal justice system.

At a news conference at City Hall, NAACP representatives joined local political leaders in support of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act. They warned that the difficulties facing California’s prison system mirror those across the nation.

“It seems like the number-one priority in California is incarceration,” said Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP.

Huffman was among several speakers who said money would be better spent on education and rehabilitation.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee, said 11 percent of the state’s general fund now goes to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, yet California’s prison population has the highest recidivism rate in the nation, which he said is 66 percent.

“We want to invest on the front end,” on education and health care, Leno said.
Also noted was the disproportionate impact on communities of color.

In San Francisco, one of every 16 black men “is in my jail today,” said Sheriff Michael Hennessey. He contrasted that number with one in 500 white men incarcerated.

The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-VA, would establish a blue-ribbon bipartisan commission to perform an 18-month “comprehensive review” of the country’s criminal justice system.

The review would examine criminal justice practices, policies and costs of federal, state and local governments, according to Webb’s office.

A truck ferrying a large billboard supporting the legislation will head out across the Bay Area over the next few days. A similar event was scheduled in Los Angeles today.

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