We need a grassroots movement of families of inmates

 The following commentary is from “One Mother’s Voice: In the Name of Justice” podcast for October 9, 2017

There was a strong pre-Trump push for criminal justice reform from many segments of the justice system, including law enforcement, prison administrators and judges.

Calls for eliminating plea bargaining, ending solitary confinement, improving prison conditions, banning for-profit, private prisons, and other reforms was growing.

Ironically, I have not seen the burgeoning of a grassroots movement from groups or communities of color most affected by mass incarceration

Our voices are still silent.

These same communities under a Trump presidency and a Republican-dominated Congress face other challenges:

  • Congressional failure to reauthorize the Child Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) for low-income families (by September 30), leaving coverage for thousands of children in doubt;
  • A memorandum from Attorney General Jeff Sessions for federal prosecutors to take a tougher stance on sentencing in federal cases;
  • A president who does not have an agenda for criminal justice reform, unlike under the Obama administration;

These issues mostly impact low-income families and communities of color; consequently, it seems as if the spotlight on criminal justice reform has dimmed.

I hope my observations are wrong.

Of course, advocacy groups such as The Sentencing Project, The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, the Center for Prison Reform, and Human Rights Watch continue to work on behalf of those incarcerated and their families; nonetheless, their efforts are made easier when public opinion and public interests line up with their missions.

With national politics so chaotic, we cannot depend on political leaders to care about our loved ones; every mother, father, sibling, child or spouse of an inmate should join the cause to reduce the harmful, disruptive consequences of incarceration on families and communities.

We need a movement of families both informed about criminal justice policies and practices and fed up with the status quo in America’s jails and prisons.

Until this happens, significant reforms in our justice system will be a long time coming.



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