2020 Democratic candidates on criminal justice reform

Democratic candidates jump on criminal justice bandwagon

For most of the 80s and 90s, when my son was in and out of New York State prisons, I was oblivious to the workings of the criminal justice system.

Issues related to incarceration–excessive bail, mandatory sentencing, plea bargaining, racial disparities, prisoner health care, recidivism and a plethora of other practices and policies (since deemed unfair or inhumane)–held no meaning for me.

My focus was on supporting and advocating for my son

Only after his untimely death in Wende Correctional Facility in 1999, did I recognize the difficult and all-encompassing effects of his incarceration on both of us, our extended family, and his friends.

When I decided to write a book about my experiences, I began researching mass incarceration in the U.S., especially as it has affected African American families and communities. I soon realized that my son’s incarceration was the result not only of his choices, but also social and political factors.

This knowledge fueled my mission to seek reforms from sentencing through parole.

Today criminal justice reform is a hot button issue that both parties, President Trump, and the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates hope will garner them popular support.

Curious about the candidates’ positions on criminal justice reform, I found an overview of their platforms in “The Rolling Stone 2020 Democratic Primary Policy Guide” (July 10, 2019).

I selected the five top-ranked candidates (according “The RS Politics 2020 Democratic Primary Leaderboard” (July 9, 2019) for this blog post.

Former Vice-President Joe Biden:

  1. Reduce the number of people incarcerated…while also reducing crime;
  2. Root out racial, income, and gender disparities in the system;
  3. Focus on redemption and rehabilitation;
  4. Eliminate profiteering in the system.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

  1. Ban private prisons and detention facilities;
  2. Stop contractors from charging fees for essential services (e.g. phone calls, bank transfers, and healthcare);
  3. Expand oversight, transparency, and enforcement over private contractors.

Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT)

  1. Legalize marijuana;
  2. End cash bail, mandatory minimums, private prisons, and the death penalty.

Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA)

  1. Call for a federal moratorium on executions;
  2. Pardon those convicted of drug related crimes.

Pete Buttigieg, Mayor South Bend, IN

Under the theme of “Racial Justice,” Buttigieg’s Douglass Plan promises to:

  1. Redress inequality in our criminal justice system; and
  2. Dismantle the prison-industrial complex to end the crisis of mass incarceration.

Will these ambitious campaign promises bear fruit if one of them is elected?

Hmmm?

I applaud all efforts to secure equal justice under the law. I have witnessed the harmful effects of incarceration that can linger long after a formerly incarcerated person is no longer in the custody of the state.

Without long-term, practical strategies to salvage and restore the lives of those touched by the criminal justice system, changing laws is but a first step.

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Commentary

Back in the saddle again!

Whoa!

It’s been almost five months (as Facebook keeps reminding me) since my last post.

Apologies (again). I have been working on a book proposal for a memoir about my experiences as the mother of an inmate.

In addition, my granddaughter, Eve, and I have decided to host a new podcast, tentatively titled, “Just Us on Justice.” Debut date to be announced.

Despite starting a second podcast, I intend to re-launch my podcast, “One Mother’s Voice: In  Name of Justice” in April 2019.

So…what’s happened on the criminal justice scene worth noting?

Celebrity activism

Meek Mill released Championships (December 2018) aimed at “all the young’uns in my hood popping percs now…you gotta…put them guns and the percs down. Them new jails got ten yards and that your first down, uh. And I ain’t come here to preach. I just had to say something ’cause I’m the one with the reach.”at

The theme of John Legend’s Preach is that social change doesn’t happen by “preaching” but by taking action. Visuals include a mother separated  from her child at the U.S./Mexican border, the funeral of a black boy killed by police,

Legend is the organizer of “FREEAMERICA created “to amplify the voices of individuals impacted by the criminal justice system and those who are working to change it. By challenging stereotypes, breaking down barriers, and uplifting solutions…”

Jay-Z and Meek Mill have formed REFORM Alliance, another organization dedicated to criminal justice reform. Kudos to these celebrity activists.

As for me, I have a personal interest in reforming the criminal justice system: one son, two grandsons, one nephew and countless other  nameless, faceless, black men caught up in The System. It’s for them that I persist.

Criminal Justice News

A criminal justice good-news story you should know about

In April 2018, I attended the Equal Justice Initiative’s Peace and Justice Summit in Montgomery, Alabama.

I was pumped about hearing from frontline criminal justice advocates, including Michelle Alexander, Senator Cory Booker, and Anne Deavere Smith.

I wasn’t disappointed. Their message: continue the fight to reform our broken criminal justice system one community at a time.

In Birmingham, Alabama, LaTonya Tate, mother of a formerly incarcerated son, (now on parole after serving eight years for robbery), is doing just that.

According to Al.com, Tate plans to create the Alabama Justice Initiative to work with state officials “to integrate community-based practices into the states parole system.”

More importantly, she wants to assist parolees and their families in adjusting to life after prison. She’s off to a good start with an $87,000 grant earmarked for criminal justice reform initiatives.

“What intrigued me was that my son was a first-time offender. Why weren’t there any alternatives for him? Why are there so many African-American men going to prison?” Tate asked “But I learned throughout this journey there aren’t any alternatives.”

Tate plans to change that in her home state.