Criminal Justice

Trading incarceration for restorative justice.

There are currently two criminal justice systems: one for the rich, and one for everyone else. If you were forced to choose one thing that perfect illustrates that division, it would be the practice of cash bail. 

In California, we ended this practice. And while our system isn’t perfect, we need to revise what’s not working and extend it federally because, simply put, you should not be indefinitely detained simply because you can’t afford the price of freedom. 

Furthermore, what justice is there in keeping people locked up for doing things that are no longer crimes? When the voters of California voted to legalize cannabis for recreational use, the very first thing that should have happened was to release and expunge the records for all of those who lost years of their lives incarcerated for non-violent possession. Some of our neighbors are still behind bars while wealthy investors are enriching themselves by doing the same act. We have a justice system that hasn’t caught up with our laws.

We can start by pushing for laws based on common sense. And it starts by asking the right questions. What justice is served by denying people the right to vote simply because they’ve served time behind bars? What justice is served when grants and employment opportunities are denied due to past incarceration? 

The system, itself, needs more than just reform. It needs a renewed look at what we consider justice. As long as we keep building new prisons, we will find ways to fill them. And while there are no prisons within the district, they are still populated in part by people who live here. People who are our neighbors and still deserve their basic humanity. But we can do better than just meeting the basic minimum. We can start by stopping the construction of any new prisons — private or otherwise — and work towards reducing the prison population by fixing the failures of society that find people in the system’s crosshairs.

Overall, we need to ask ourselves what is the purpose of our justice system and if we feel it is accomplishing that goal. Far too often we see it used as a tool for vengeance, but Brian joins with the growing number of those who want it used for rehabilitation and transformative justice. Cruel punishment and inhumane treatment hasn’t been a deterrent to crime, but has led to increased recidivism as people find it hard to reintegrate into a society that has broken them down and made it acceptable to deny employment for someone looking to get their lives back on track.

This year, as California placed a moretorium on the death penalty, the Justice Department has reinstated it federally. Not only is the death penalty more expensive compared to life in prison, it’s also disastrous as a moral question. Whether or not we believe that others deserve to die for certain crimes is irrelevant to the question of whether or not we believe the government has the right to kill. Isolated cases of extremes are not enough to justify a system that is notoriously racist and that removes any pretense of redemption.

We talk about the United States being a land of opportunity and second chances. When we start to apply that attitude when the decision is hard rather than just when it’s easy, we can begin the hard work towards actual, equal justice for all.