The Justice Collaborative (TJC) is proud to announce A Blueprint for a Safer and More Just America, a new comprehensive framework for national criminal justice reform. The blueprint, developed by TJC’s attorneys and criminal justice policy experts, outlines concrete steps to address the country’s mass incarceration crisis and provides actionable solutions to creating a fairer and more equitable justice system. It comes amid a growing cry for reform, with voters electing reform-minded prosecutors in cities from Boston and Philadelphia to St. Louis and Dallas. For 2020 presidential candidates, the blueprint offers a roadmap to rebalance our justice system before it collapses under the weight of the social and economic costs of incarcerating too many people.
“This national framework is an important first step in implementing necessary and transformative changes to America’s broken criminal justice system,” said Josie Duffy Rice, a lawyer and senior strategist from The Justice Collaborative. “Simply put, prison should be a last resort, not a first stop, in our criminal justice system. Our blueprint incorporates lessons learned from the smart criminal justice reforms being implemented by progressive prosecutors across the country. They can’t do it alone, though. It’s time for presidential candidates to go bold on criminal justice reform, and The Justice Collaborative’s blueprint gives them a platform to do that.”
The blueprint lays out seven principles and 41 planks needed for fair and equitable reform our criminal justice system:
Stop making poverty into a crime.
No person in America should be locked up because they are too poor. From bail bondsmen to private probation companies, people are getting rich off suffering and incarceration. Among other policies, the blueprint calls for an end to money bail, court fines and fees, charging incarcerated people for phone calls and jailing people if they can’t afford to pay back the fines they owe.
Treat kids like kids.
Children’s brains continue developing until around the age of 25 and research supports their enhanced capacity for growth and rehabilitation. The blueprint demands that children should not be prosecuted in adult court, nor should they be given punishments that preclude the opportunity for redemption.
Allow people to grow and change.
A criminal act does not define a person forever. As kids mature into adults, their judgment and emotional stability improves. People who suffer from addiction and other mental illnesses can receive treatment. Other people find faith, or stability and meaning in their work, or just find hope for a life that is better than the one they lived before. The blueprint calls for an end to mandatory minimums, the death penalty and sentences beyond 15 years without a meaningful opportunity for release, among other policies that provide acknowledge the ability for people to grow and change.
Treat addiction like the medical issue that it is:
The war on drugs is a failure. The regressive set of policies and policing practices that make up the drug war have failed to reduce drug use or availability. We must put an end to the increase of violent crime and embrace more effective therapeutic solutions for dealing with drug addiction. The blueprint recommends that no person should be incarcerated for drug possession and safe injection sites should be legalized.
End cycles of violence.
We have a national crisis of using limited public safety resources to combat low-level offenses like marijuana usage while leaving the most serious crimes unsolved. We have to be able to invest significant resources outside of the law enforcement paradigm to make sure we’re interrupting cycles of violence. And we have to provide resources to people who are victims of serious physical harm and to those who are most at risk of being a future perpetrator or victim of violence. The blueprint calls for resources to be devoted to non-law enforcement, community-based violence interruption models.
End unnecessary family separation.
When a person is locked in jail or prison, it is often a whole family that suffers. And when the person comes back home into the community it becomes even harder to find a job, find stable housing, and contribute to one’s family and community. That’s why the goal should always be to use jail or prison as a last resort and only when it is absolutely necessary to protect the physical safety of the community.
Make people and their communities stronger.
There are times when a person must be confined for the physical safety of the community. We should always make sure that we are not needlessly making people who are incarcerated more vulnerable and traumatized. We should instead try to make sure people live as normally as possible while confined, have an opportunity to strengthen their connection to our democracy, and have an opportunity to become healthier, more stable people when they return to their families and communities.
The blueprint was recently featured in a New York Times op-ed by staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, Emily Bazelon which urges 2020 Presidential Candidates to embrace these principles and use the smart justice approaches modeled by reform-minded prosecutors like St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell and King County, Washington Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg as examples.