The second week of July was invigorating to those of us occupying the criminal justice reform space. President Obama became the first sitting President to, in less than one week, commute the excessive sentences of 46 people incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses, make an entire speech calling for major overhauls in criminal justice reform and prisoner rehabilitation and then followed up his “call to action” with a tour of a Oklahoma’s Federal prison, El Reno.
For decades, proposed criminal justice reform proposed legislation has been repeatedly stalled in Congressional committees. Is this finally the time for major reforms? Despite major bipartisan support, opinions seem to differ. What most people can agree upon is the need to dismantle and rebuild this ineffectual system which, at the taxpayer cost of $80M, fails to rehabilitate or educate incarcerated persons. Most people would also agree that there is a necessity for beneficial re-entry programs. In our technological society, platforms need to be developed that serve as effective and efficient pathways to employment and self-sufficiency for men and women exiting jails and prisons.
With thought leaders like Senator Cory Booker, Pat Nolan, Van Jones, Michelle Alexander and Glenn Martin spearheading discussions on reducing mass incarceration, major reforms feel like they are looming on the horizon. What legislation Congress will actually agree upon and pass remains to be seen.
What can concerned citizens do to ensure that meaningful criminal justice reform occurs? We can all take an active part in making sure that our voices are heard by reaching out to our state level representatives to support legislature such as: The Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act introduced in June by Reps. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.); this measure looks at beneficial state level criminal justice reforms and recommends implementation at the Federal level. Seeing that it fails to address incarceration alternatives for many people with violent criminal histories (whose crimes may not have actually been violent in nature), I acknowledge that the SAFE Act needs to be expanded; a more comprehensive version would do more to help reduce America’s incarcerated population by half within the next decade. Through a series of researched principles currently used by some states on the forefront of decarceration, the legislation aims to protect public safety and reduce the escalating costs related to incarceration. The following means are detailed in the Act:
- Curtailing overcriminalization
- Increasing use of evidence-based sentencing alternatives
- Concentrating prison space on violent and career criminals
- Reducing recidivism
- Increasing government transparency and accountability
SAFE is a measure that is already receiving major bipartisan support. The outcry of we the people can keep things moving until there is a version of this bipartisan bill agreed upon by both chambers and signed by President Obama.
Take action today by signing and sharing the petition supporting this Act #JusticeReformNOW