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June 13, 2017

Highlighting how criminal justice reformers are "going local" at the start of the Trump era

Chris Geidner has this notable lengthy new BuzzFeed News article about the work of criminal justice reform advocates under this extended headline: "Trump Loves Old School, Tough-On-Crime Policies. So Criminal Justice Liberals Are Going Local. What do you do when your progressive vision loses its spotlight from the White House?". Here is a snippet of an article the merits a read in full:

Glenn Martin, [who] is the president of JustLeadership USA, ... spent six years in prison more than two decades ago and is now helping to lead the fight to close New York City’s Rikers Island.  Closing the jail became a focus in the wake of multiple groundbreaking news stories examining its conditions — and why people are there in the first place — and a concerted, ongoing grassroots opposition. The effort to shutter the jail recently picked up backing from NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Martin, who served on the year-long commission whose report recommended closing the jail, was blunt about the reasons for his local focus — which was the case even before this past November’s election.  “I never had a lot of hope that Congress was the answer to this,” he said in an interview after a student-focused event about closing Rikers that took place at the New School in Manhattan.  “In fact, it was a bipartisan coalition that got us here; forgive me if I’m not inspired by a comeback coalition trying to get us out of this mess.”

While Martin is a federal skeptic, ending the mess — America has more people in jails and prisons, both in number and percentage, than any other country on the planet — was a mission that just last year seemed to be going strongly in these and other advocates’ direction on the national stage.

In the last months of his presidency, Obama commuted a steady stream of sentences — mainly focused on those serving long prison sentences for nonviolent drug-related offenses. A bipartisan coalition on Capitol Hill was pressing for significant criminal sentencing reforms — and though Republican leadership was not moving the legislation, a younger generation of lawmakers had expressed openness or even enthusiasm for it.  Attorney General Loretta Lynch oversaw significant investigations into numerous police departments and had begun a process of ending the federal government’s reliance on private prisons — a long-sought aim of liberals.  And these promised to be merely the opening salvos in a paradigm-shifting mission: Ending mass incarceration and increasing police accountability had become popular causes for the highest level of public officials, celebrities, and intellectuals in Washington.

That momentum came to a halt in January.  Advocates are facing a very different situation now.  Trump wasn’t just disinterested in their cause — he actively campaigned against it, promising a crackdown on crime and echoing the kind of sentiments popular in the 1980s and early ’90s when crime rates were significantly higher.  (For Trump, “urban centers” — despite his having lived in one for years — remain a bad stereotype of a 1982 inner city.)  The naming of Sessions as attorney general was a doubling down of that vision: Sessions likely was the senator whose criminal justice views most closely aligned with Trump’s views.

While some remain hopeful about continuing to build federal momentum for sentencing law changes, the reality is that most federal efforts will be aimed at stopping or minimizing Trump and Sessions’ proposals — not advancing their own goals....

There are, in fact, a handful of areas where advocates see real possibilities: pressing local, even grassroots, efforts to make community change (including through local elections); backing state legislative changes where they’re possible; filing litigation where advocates think it’s needed; and partnering with business and philanthropists to fund programs that otherwise might not happen....

Passing laws and making changes locally is key to keeping the criminal justice movement’s momentum alive on a national scale.  For decades, politicians in both parties largely ran on harsher sentences and aggressive drug policy; persuading politicians that it can be done differently has become an essential piece of the local dynamic.

June 13, 2017 at 10:24 AM | Permalink

Comments

There was a 12 year old girl murdered in Florida. Seems like the suspect wasn't locked up for long enough.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 13, 2017 10:29:03 AM

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