The United States leads the world in imprisoning its own citizens—currently more than 6.6 million people—while ripping loved ones from their families every day. We spend billions on jails and prisons, including $38 million every day to detain people who are simply awaiting trial. Once convicted of a crime, “prisoners” are often exploited as unpaid or poorly paid labor to save millions of dollars for the local state, private companies or the military. We do all of this while neglecting the services and infrastructure that communities really need—to prevent crime, restore justice and create economic opportunity within communities.
The prison bureaucracy has grown over the last four decades, and it will not vanish overnight. Even if we reduced our incarcerated population by eighty percent, we would barely reach the US incarceration rate of 40 years ago. The result is a criminal-legal bureaucracy that denies millions of people the opportunities, legal equality, and human rights that they deserve, even as it fuels the world’s highest incarceration rate. States must stop criminalizing poverty and start building systems that use treatment and social services to address our social problems.
The American criminal-legal system is a stain on our democracy, declares a coalition of human rights groups that aim to transform the existing system into one of respect and justice. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Civil Rights Corps, and 115 other rights-focused organizations released Vision for Justice: 2020 and Beyond.
This “Vision” presents political candidates and the public with a holistic framework that expands our view of public safety and reprioritizes investment in non-carceral social services—with fourteen recommendations centered around three core themes: (1) Ensure Equity and Accountability in the Criminal-Legal System: decriminalizing poverty, giving easy access to counsel, ending pretrial detention, and establishing prosecution transparency and accountability; (2) Build a Restorative System of Justice —ending jails and prisons as we know them in the US: providing alternatives to incarceration, radically reforming sentencing policy, getting rid of privatized prisons, abolishing low and unpaid work (slavery) in prisons, reducing racial inequity and supporting the children of incarcerated parents; (3) Rebuild Communities, by investing in communities, ending the War on Drugs, building a school-to-opportunity pipeline, and reimagining reentry, probation, and parole.
It’s time for 2020 candidates to think boldly about reforming this excessively punitive criminal-legal system. The corporate press is partially at fault, it failed to cover this new paradigm for public safety and the roadmap of solutions so clearly enumerated here.
Source: Jessica Corbett, “’Vision for Justice’: 117 Rights Groups Offer Roadmap to Transform US Criminal-Legal System.” Common Dreams, September 5, 2019, https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/09/05/vision-justice-117-rights-groups-offer-roadmap-transform-us-criminal-legal-system.
Student Researcher: Xavier Rosenberg (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)