Actors, Advocates, and Senators Stand Up for Sentencing Reform

Media 04.28.16

WASHINGTON – Just as a deal was struck on criminal justice reform in the U.S. Senate today, actors, advocates, and Senators came together to call on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to move quickly and allow a vote. The event, “#JusticeReformNOW: Celebrities for Justice & Voices of Impacted People,” drew hundreds of advocates and Congressional staffers and was sponsored by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, #cut50 and the American Civil Liberties Union.

In advance of the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, Matt McGorry, Hill Harper, Melissa Fitzgerald, Terrence J and Van Jones delivered statements and a petition on behalf of more than 100 of their colleagues in the entertainment industry. The petition for #JusticeReformNOW, organized by #cut50, demands that Congress, and specifically Leader McConnell, “take action to roll back the incarceration industry in America.” It is signed by celebrities like Alicia Keys, Amy Schumer, Stephen Curry, Ed Norton, Russell Simmons, and Sean “Diddy” Combs along with 250,000 other Americans who voiced their support.

“We are all here today because ending this era of ‘mass incarceration’ isn’t just an economic matter, but a moral one,” said Van Jones, co-founder of #cut50 and a CNN political correspondent. “We’re here to reunite parents with their children, reclaim genius being wasted behind prison walls and give people a real chance to contribute to society and support their families.”

“I never paid much attention to this problem, because this problem did not pay attention to me,” said actor Matt McGorry. “The criminal justice system has not impacted my community, the White community, in nearly the same ways as communities of color. As I learn more about the challenges, I could not sit on the sidelines any longer and you shouldn’t either. Let’s pass meaningful legislation and put an end to this nightmare called mass incarceration.”

“African Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population—but almost 37 percent of the federal prison population,” said author and actor Hill Harper. “With the passage of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, we would make our society safer, make our system fairer and bring our brothers and sisters home. Working together we can be smart on crime.”

Honorary co-hosts, U.S. Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) highlighted the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which passed out of the Senate Judiciary in October and still awaits a commitment for a floor vote from Leader McConnell. Last month, Senator McConnell received over 30,000 petition signatures from Kentucky-based activists and faith leaders urging him to let the Senate vote. Similar legislation introduced in the House was endorsed by Speaker Paul Ryan, who has committed to a vote, but not yet said when.

Senator Durbin highlighted the case of Alton Mills, who was a low-level drug courier sentenced to a mandatory term of life in prison under federal “Three Strikes” laws. Mills’ prison sentence was commuted by President Obama in December 2015, after he spent 22 years in prison. Mills was joined by seven other formerly incarcerated leaders sentenced under harsh and racially-biased drug laws who were also granted clemency: Ramona Brant, Jason Hernandez, Michael Short, Norman Brown, Shauna Barry-Scott, Amy Povah and Michael Short.

Polls nationwide show that the country overwhelmingly supports bold criminal justice reforms. In total, more than 400,000 petition signatures were highlighted today by #cut50, American Civil Liberties Union, Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, AFL-CIO, Drug Policy Alliance and MomsRising. In light of the appetite demand for change, passing current proposals such as the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would be both good politics and good policy.

A playback of the event can be viewed at:

Select social media posts from the event are below:

Terrence J on Instagram –

“Joining lawmakers, advocates, and clemency recipients in DC today to talk about why we MUST advance sentencing reform now! #JusticeReformNOW”

Russell Simmons on Twitter –

“Proud of the team testifying in our nation’s capital at the Senate hearing for #JusticeReformNow.”

#Cut50 on Twitter –

“We’re here with @hillharper and @sakiracook getting ready to head into the #JusticeReformNOW briefing.”

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights on Twitter –

“.@SenatorDurbin: The prison system in the United States of America needs to be changed. #JusticeReformNow”

Matt McGorry on Twitter –

“I’m joining @SenatorDurbin and @SenMikeLee in DC today for a conversation about why we need #JusticeReformNOW”

#cut50 is a national, bipartisan effort popularizing the idea that we can smartly and safely reduce the number of people in our prisons and jails by 50% over the next ten years.  By humanizing the narrative and pursuing transformative legislation, we can unlock prison doors and open doors to new opportunity for millions of people impacted by the incarceration industry. Visit

For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been our nation’s guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country. Through litigation, public education, and advocacy, the ACLU Center for Justice seeks to transform the criminal justice system into one that is fair and free of racial bias, that keeps communities safe and healthy without an overreliance on incarceration, that is evidence-based rather than fear-based, and that respects the constitutional and human rights of all who come into contact with it. Visit

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit