Reimagine Justice. Now.
This piece is co-authored by Bruce Western and Jeremy Travis, co-founders of The Square One Project, and Katharine Huffman, Executive Director.
In an era when the country is deeply divided, when blue waves and red waves are crashing into each other, competing fiercely for America’s future, it’s rare indeed that on one issue — criminal justice reform — red and blue stand on common ground.
Over the past decade, cost-conscious and justice-minded conservatives and progressives joined forces to take on a status quo that emphasizes punitive measures instead of solutions that improve safety and save dollars. Leaders like Newt Gingrich, Van Jones, Cory Booker, Jared Kushner, Kamala Harris, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush all agree that the “lock ’em up” approach of the last half century runs contrary to core American values.
The justice reform agenda now includes a wide range of proposals: cutting incarceration, ending the “war on drugs,” eliminating money bail, reducing parole revocations and abolishing burdensome fees and fines. Dozens of states that embraced reform have produced striking results; and, surprising to many, those states are both blue and red.
Take, for example, Texas. The state reduced imprisonment rates and correctional spending, with four prisons closing, saving billion of dollars. Elsewhere, New York City cut the jail population at Rikers Island by more than 50 percent, while achieving the largest reductions in crime of any major city.
This is all good news. But we want even better news.
Despite the momentum, there is deep impatience with the pace and the ambition of today’s reform. Poverty and racism, which often go hand-in-hand, remain significant drivers of crime and punishment in the United States. And in some neighborhoods, deeply affected by poverty and racism, violence is part of everyday life.
From slavery to Jim Crow to racial profiling and police brutality, systemic racism is entwined with enduring disadvantages in economic well-being, health, and family life in poor black and brown communities. Joblessness, untreated addiction, mental illness, and homelessness provide the backdrop for a wearying cycle of incarceration and violence.
It’s clear that we’ve gone off-track in a fundamental way. We have to stop using the criminal justice system as a response to the nation’s most challenging social problems. We’ve learned that punishment is a blunt instrument that often does more harm than good.
Now is the time for a reckoning with history to confront the issues of racial injustice, poverty, and violence and return to the human questions of how we relate to each other, how we resolve conflicts, and what we expect from both our informal social contracts and our formal system of laws.
The energy for fundamental reform is palpable and unstoppable. Today we are launching the Square One Project, which challenges everyone to go big, to think big, and to dream big by harnessing creativity from every part of society.
Young people are challenging the status quo on gun violence with unprecedented vigor. Victim advocates are demanding responses to crime that promote healing rather than long prison sentences. Faith leaders are supporting the incarcerated and their families. Communities are electing prosecutors dedicated to a system of justice that values human dignity. Scholars and other experts are producing report after report demonstrating the failures of the “tough on crime” policies of the past generation.
We are seizing on this energy to develop a new vision, starting from the ground up, that views each crime as a call for healing as well as accountability. One that actively works to restore public confidence in the rule of law. That explicitly recognizes the harms of the past that have damaged communities of color and poor people. That promotes investment of public funds to strengthen communities and advance public trust. Our goal: a vision for justice that works.
The Square One Project starts right now. Communities across the country are already paving the way. Won’t you join us?
Learn more about The Square One Project go to squareonejustice.org.