WHAT CAN I DO?
Criminal justice reform proposals come in many different flavors. Human rights advocates address the racialized and discriminatory practices of our justice system. Policy reformers decry the expense and unconstitutionality of some of the laws passed by their predecessors. Families and crime victim/survivors tell horror stories of how the system has harmed them and most of us are just plain confused and bewildered by what to do about it.
In effort to help, we offer this humble list of ways the average citizen can begin to engage. We believe that more community engagement will inevitably result in a more just, effective and cost effective criminal justice system while ensuring our neighborhoods are safer and healthier places for all of us to live.
Work though the RI resource page to start your education about criminal justice and rehabilitation.
Read at least one article (web or print) about a criminal justice issue each week. (Articles abound in news media outlets.)
Pay attention to local, state and federal legislation advocating for reform. Pay attention to who supports it and who opposes it and find out why. Who serves to gain money and/or power and who serves to lose money and/or power if these changes are enacted?
Volunteer with one of the many organizations that support those who have been impacted by the present system. Crime victim/survivors, children and families of the incarcerated, the unemployed/underemployed and neighbors living in homelessness are groups deeply affected by our present crime management system. Proximity to the people involved is a key to better understanding and there are many local organizations working hard to alleviate the harm many of our neighbors have suffered at the hands of our present system.
Financially support local organizations serving those who have suffered. Many people who have committed crime and their families are serving a life sentence of barriers to self-sufficiency after intersecting with our present system. Stable housing, food, transportation, and healthcare are just a few of the areas where the previously incarcerated are profoundly challenged and the local organizations who seek to alleviate some of those challenges have a huge impact on whether someone will succeed or return to crime in a desperate effort to meet basic needs.
Write (email or snail mail) or call your local representatives when justice reform legislation is before them to voice your opinion on how they should vote. Remember, the federal system only accounts for about 10% of those we arrest, adjudicate and incarcerate. Real change will happen at the state and local level.
Share what you are learning about this topic with friends and family. An educated electorate is going to be the key to moving forward and these conversations help fuel better understanding for all of us.
Be very wary of “tough on crime” and “law and order” rhetoric. This type of fear-based thinking is what has brought us to this place in history where we have a justice system that fails to rehabilitate those who commit crimes, fails to provide true justice and healing to crime victim/survivors, and is crushingly expensive to our state and local budgets.
THE BIG PICTURE:
At Remnant Initiatives, because we work with the output of the criminal justice system—the men and women who are releasing from prison back into society—we advocate for reform that focuses on helping our previously incarcerated neighbors to become law abiding, contributing members of our community. We advocate for reform that critically assesses how we arrest, adjudicate and sentence our errant citizens while asking how the actions we take will support or thwart their ability to become good neighbors. We advocate for a justice system that addresses the root causes of crime, employs effective, evidenced-based consequences, and moves both the crime victim/survivor and the offender toward restoration and healing so that we can all enjoy safer, healthier communities.
Research shows us that people can change. The human brain is capable of healing from the trauma and addiction that so often produce the foundation for criminal behavior. Research shows us that long prison sentences do not deter crime. Research shows us that stable housing, mental health and drug treatment, and living-wage employment are key to decreasing crime and recidivism. Research shows us that harsh punishment for first offenses is often the catalyst for sending someone through the revolving door of prison for the rest of their life. Since over 95% of those whom we incarcerate will return to our neighborhoods, maybe it’s time to give up the punitive system of the past to adopt a new system based on all this research.
The task of reform is huge, but by tackling just a few remnant initiatives, there is much you CAN do.
Contact us for more information on ways to engage.