#20. A Comprehensive Framework for Transforming the Criminal-Legal System

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Calling for policy solutions to dismantle the US system of criminal punishment and the inequalities and white supremacy that this system promotes and perpetuates, Alec Karakatsanis, the executive director of Civil Rights Corps, and 116 other human and civil rights groups released a comprehensive fourteen-point plan to “transform the existing system into one of respect and justice,” Jessica Corbett reported for Common Dreams in September 2019.

The groups’ “Vision for Justice” plan advocates an expanded view of public safety, prioritizing investments in education, housing, employment, healthcare, and other public programs, guided by three core themes: ensuring equity and accountability in the criminal-legal system, building a restorative system of justice, and rebuilding communities. The plan’s fourteen specific recommendations—such as creating a new framework for pretrial justice, and decriminalizing poverty—are rooted in human rights and the practice of restorative justice, Corbett reported.

A study by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), released in August 2019, underscored the need for comprehensive criminal justice reform. The study, titled “Arrest, Release, Repeat: How Police and Jails are Misused to Respond to Social Problems,” showed that people imprisoned as repeat offenders are likely to be poor, unemployed, or homeless, Victoria Law reported for Truthout. Although police and jails ought to promote public safety, law enforcement is more and more frequently “called upon to respond punitively to medical and economic problems unrelated to public safety issues,” according to the PPI study. Consequently, people in need of medical care and social services “cycle in and out of jail without ever receiving the help they need.” The study’s authors found that repeated arrests are “related to race and poverty, as well as high rates of mental illness and substance use disorders.”

According to the study, in 2017 at least 4.9 million individuals were arrested and booked, with the vast majority charged with nonviolent crimes. To better address the conditions that lead marginalized individuals to have contact with the police in the first place, the study’s authors recommended “public investments in employment assistance, education and vocational training, and financial assistance.”

As of May 2020, neither the “Vision for Justice” policy platform of the coalition of 117 rights groups nor the Prison Policy Initiative’s report on how police and jails are misused to respond to social problems appear to have received any coverage by the establishment press.

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.

Victoria Law, “Arrest, Release, Repeat: New Report Exposes Vicious Cycle of Imprisonment,” Truthout, August 27, 2019, https://truthout.org/articles/arrest-release-repeat-new-report-exposes-vicious-cycle-of-imprisonment/.

Student Researchers: Xavier Rosenberg (San Francisco State University) and Carina Ramirez (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluators: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University) and Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)