The U.S. criminal justice system can be quite overwhelming to say the least. From the complexities of the laws and policies in place to understanding the roles of the myriad agents involved in sentencing, getting a handle on the criminal justice system is daunting. The following diagram from the organization, Prison Fellowship, provides a simple yet detailed diagram of the system.
This graph helps map the formal system, but it doesn’t include social implications such as poverty, racism, and corrupt political agendas. The manner in which these social forces create inequities in the system, as well as the inhumane practices within the criminal justice system itself, has led to increasing calls for reform, and even rethinking what we mean by justice. We want justice that doesn’t profit off of the number of bodies in jails and prisons; justice that actually reduces crime; justice that looks beyond the criminal act and address the factors that are causing criminal activity (i.e. poverty, racism, limited access to education, increased access to drugs).
In order for justice to occur, local advocacy and reform need to take place. And of the different aspects of criminal justice system, prison reform itself needs to be reformed. At the Quixote Center, we don’t have all of the answers for reform, but we do have the necessary passion needed to see change come about. The primary focus of this blog series will be to explore prison reform on the local, state and federal level. We will look at reform through the lenses of government officials such as mayors and state delegates, from the perspective of formerly (and currently) incarcerated individuals, the presence of proactive (or harmful) legislation, as well as examine the different factors affecting recidivism such as lack of housing and discrimination in the work force.
At the federal level, the Department of Justice is led by known racist, former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. It is imperative that we keep an eye on the DoJ as well as legislation submitted to the House Judiciary Committee. Keep the following numbers close so when it’s time to advocate for or against certain bills, you will be able to reach out to your state representatives! To contact your house of representatives and state senators call 202-224-3121.