Time For Reform Cannot Wait
Honest people from all political persuasions are appalled, angered and baffled with the mistreatment of African-American males by the criminal justice system. White supremacy developed our current criminal justice system and used it routinely to undermine African American men. It is the reason our nation is known worldwide to be in favor of mass incarceration. For these reasons, criminal justice reform is long overdue and very much needed.
Notwithstanding the great need for reform, advocates must ensure that such reforms are meaningful, and not mere tokenism. Specifically, the reforms must address the front, middle and back sides of the criminal justice system such as poverty and reentry. With this in mind, the National Black Parents Association makes the following reform suggestions:
- Poverty and Joblessness. Most offenders would not have contact with the criminal justice system but for joblessness and poverty. Stated differently, a very effective crime reducing strategy is to create a strong economy and plenty of jobs. Ask our nation’s police chiefs who argue that crime and thus the presence of their officers in high crime areas would be dramatically reduced if cities addressed poverty. We think the chiefs make plenty of sense.
- Non-violent crimes. State legislatures have created so many nonviolent offenses that our jails, prisons, and probation offices are overflowing with nonviolent offenders. This misguided approach has not made our community any safer; instead it has cost states millions of dollars they could not afford to spend. States should be spending this money to improve schools, create jobs, build affordable housing and so forth. Many prosecutors share the blame because they seem more interested in incarcerating nonviolent offenders than seeking justice. For example, prosecutors are not a shame of recommending months, even years, of incarceration for minor theft and drug offenses. Unfortunately, most prosecutors are usually averse to common sense arguments regarding the astronomical cost of incarcerating a person for such trivial offenses.
- Mental Health System. Many nonviolent offenders have undiagnosed or untreated mental health and substance abuse problems. The criminal justice system usually jails and imprisons these people, further eroding our shrinking state budgets, rather than using these funds to provide adequate mental health and substance abuse treatment. Far right-wing politicians favor this tactic to appear tough on crime and impress their constituencies. Meanwhile, the rest of the nation covers the tab to jail nonviolent drug and mental health offenders.
- Criminal Records. Another aspect of the criminal justice system that needs reform is the area of criminal records. Currently, when persons complete their time of incarceration or probation or parole, their criminal records continue to follow them, making it virtually impossible for them to find employment or decent housing. They usually revert to their criminal ways to provide for themselves and their families financially. However, many of them would leave their criminal past behind if they could start fresh. Any reforms must include restoration for these nonviolent offenders after they pay their debts to society. This reform benefits offenders, their families, and the nation.
- Racial Profiling. Finally, we must do more to stop law enforcement from racial profiling or targeting African Americans. This practice is very unfair and deleterious to the African American community since any targeted community will have higher incidents of arrests although it is no more prone to criminal behavior than other community. Nor is there any proof that racial profiling reduces crime. Racial profiling is the reason many African American men are felons, incarcerated or supervised by many probation offices.
Criminal justice reform needs to be expansive in the ways that we outlined above? If the reform merely patches up a few holes and does not target the front, middle and back of the criminal justice system, we are sadly wasting our time and white supremacy will continue to enslave tens of thousands of African American men.