Criminal justice reform has long been an issue that has eluded tangible results. And with the negative consequences of what many consider to be a broken system becoming ever more apparentespecially among people and communities of colora major push is underway to finally enact change in the system.
Coinciding with the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, on Tuesday Van Jones, CNN contributor, president of The Dream Corps and co-founder of #cut50, a bipartisan effort to cut the U.S. prison population in half, moderated a panel to answer the question: Will criminal justice reform ever happen
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and a part of the drafting committee of this year’s Democratic Party platform. Lee said it’s the first time in history that a specific call to end mass incarceration has been included in a major political party’s platform.Lee also said the Black Lives Matter movement is included.
“We will push for a societal transformation to make it clear that black lives matter and that there is no place for racism in our country,” the platform states.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) addressed the fact that racial disparities in incarceration and sentencing keep people of color from the polls.
“One in five people in Florida cannot vote because of felonies,” he said. Booker has taken a lead in criminal justice reform, including introducing federal legislation that would allow ex-felons to vote in federal elections, regardless of state laws.
He also said the public plays a role ushering in reform by being engaged in what’s happening in communities and prisons.
“We’re marching, but we’re not getting engaged,” Booker said.
He said, as with the Civil Rights Movement, Washington doesn’t make the change, but citizens need to bring the change to Washington.
“It was creativity that woke up the consciousness of our country,” Booker said.
Former staffer for President Barack Obama and current New York Assemblyman Michael Blake said that in New York 16- and 17-year-olds are still prosecuted as adults. He also said that when analyzing criminal justice policies and procedures, you have to look at what led up to a particular case, rather than just analyzing the case itself.
Before their deaths, Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island, New York, and Alton Sterling was selling CDs in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Blake said. The ways in which they attempted to earn a living indicate a lack of economic opportunity. Effective reform should take that into consideration.
Blake, who is scheduled take the stage at the convention with 40 national leaders for the “Our America” segment Wednesday evening ahead of Obama’s address, also discussed with DiversityInc tangible solutions to deter racial profiling.
Judith Browne Dianis, a civil rights attorney and co-director of Advancement Project, said the school to prison pipeline for people of color, especially Blacks, starts as early as kindergarten.
Dianis said there is a common “mentality that people of color are less than human or are seen as being criminal.”
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s (D-Minn.) thoughts on Philando Castile’s death echoed that sentiment. He said Castile was stopped 52 times and was never arrested, and not one time did he do anything wrong.
Dianis referenced anincident a few years ago when a 6-year-old Black girl was arrested for having a tantrum over a game.She offered that a solution is more money for schools to improve the safety of children. “And by safety that doesn’t mean putting in more police,”Dianissaid.
Jessica Jackson Sloan is a human rights attorney and national director, and also a co-founder, of #cut50. Following the panel,Sloan spoke with DiversityInc about how her first marriage was destroyed by the incarceration industry when her then-husband was sentenced to prison for a non-violent, drug-related offense. She said #cut50 advocates the use of empathy in criminal justice reform in order to facilitate change.