Expert believe imprisonment is a cruel and expensive reaction to violations committed by people, especially when those crimes are nonviolent. Prison brings trauma to the lives of the incarcerated, while splitting up and damaging family lives.
In such cases, being locked up should not be the go-to option. It should be the last resort. Doing it any other way just adds to the problem of mass incarceration.
This is especially true when you take into account that America has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. According to CNN:
Year after year, the United States beats out much larger countries — India, China — and more totalitarian ones –Russia and the Philippines — for the distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Smart Justice: Fighting to Make Things Right
The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is working hard to create waves in the American justice system. Its plan includes transforming various types of reforms in all 50 states across the country.
In 2018 alone, ACLU was instrumental in the passing of more than 100 new criminal justice reform bills in the US. For the advancement of Smart Justice, the ACLU is fighting for change in the courts, with voters, through legislation, and of course, within America’s communities.
All this is done to help end mass incarceration in the US. This is done by addressing the following:
- Bail reform
- Prosecutorial reform
- Sentencing reform
- Parole & Release
- Re-entry programs
Jails & Prisons: 5 Reforms We Need to Address in 2019
Each level of reform leads to issues with the next. President Donald Trump recently passed the First Step Act, a law that seeks to put a dent in mass incarceration in America.
However, it doesn’t address many of the issues that lead to mass incarceration. Here are the five reforms the ACLU is addressing in the name of Smart Justice:
1. Bail Reform
The bail systems in this country make it almost impossible for many to get out. They are for-profit systems that are unjust, causing harm to those who can’t afford it.
It’s very difficult to fight a case while locked up in a county jail. Not to mention, many people lose their jobs and homes while imprisoned due to costly bails. Oftentimes, the bails aren’t very costly, but are still unaffordable to the person in question.
For example, just this past December, a 61-year-old grandmother died in the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. She was a Black woman with serious mental health issues.
Her bail was just $300. Bail bonds generally charge 10% for bonding fees. She didn’t have $30, and no one notified her family.
The fact that this Black woman could have been free over $30 is astounding. With a bail that low, something else should have been done for her.
2. Prosecutorial Reform
In the court system, prosecutors rule. These actors have the most influence than anyone else, including judges. Most are elected to their positions. Therefore, they work for THE PEOPLE.
But, who are THE PEOPLE? In writing, this appears to sound like “We, the People” as in the citizens of America.
Yet, in reality, in the court systems, the people is the plaintiff… the state or federal entity taking the person to trial. That’s why most prosecutors work toward getting convictions.
For them, true justice is not the goal.
Smart Justice is about challenging the abuses of prosecutors. The ACLU is fighting this unjust system in the courts, through educating voters and within legislatures.
3. Sentencing Reform
Mass incarceration is a major issue in America. It’s VERY costly, and it actually serves no purpose. Families are broken up, and kids are left without parents.
And what’s worse is that thousands and thousands of people are incarcerated in America’s prisons for NONVIOLENT offenses. This is especially true on the federal prison level.
Prison Policy reports:
The data confirms that nonviolent drug convictions are a defining characteristic of the federal prison system, but play only a supporting role at the state and local levels.
Thousands are incarcerated each other for nonviolent drug offenses. They are sent to prisons instead of drug rehab programs, increasing the number of people in prisons.
The ACLU is fighting to put an end to extreme sentencing policies and laws that prescribe extremely long prison sentences.
4. Parole & Release
This country imprisons hundreds of thousands of people for parole violations. Some have been convicted of violent crimes, while others are in the system for nonviolent offenses.
Once out on parole, the reasons for violations can range anywhere from lying on a job application to getting a ticket for jaywalking.
Any type of violation is cause for reimprisonment. This creates a continuous cycle known as recidivism.
The release and parole system needs major restructuring. Its purpose is supposed to be keeping the public safe.
However, for many nonviolent offenders, it just keeps them going back to prisons for the simplest offenses.
5. Re-Entry Programs
Across the country, about 650,000 men and women are released from prisons each year. They return to their communities hoping to rebuild their lives and their family bonds.
Yet, being free comes with major challenges, especially if they’ve served years behind bars. Everything from securing a place to live, learning new technology, catching up with the times, and especially finding a job after prison can be extremely difficult.
The ACLU reports that these formerly incarcerated women and men face up to:
…50,000 federal, state and local legal restrictions that make it difficult to reintegrate back into society.
Finding a Job After Prison
Getting your hands on the right resources makes finding a job as a felon a bit easier. Thanks to programs like Ban the Box, times are changing for ex-cons seeking jobs in this country.
Extensive research was done to put together The Felon’s 2019 Guide to Finding a Job & Becoming an Entrepreneur. It includes valuable resources to put your or your incarcerated loved one on the right track after release.
Download an eBook copy and start working on your own re-entry program.
Want to send a copy to some in prison? It also comes in paperback, so you can ship it directly to the institution. Order your copy today!