For decades, activists have been saying that America’s criminal legal system is expensive, cruel, racist, and yet, surprisingly bad at preventing crime.
Today, we’ve seen how the War on Drugs has failed to address addiction or stem the flow of drugs into our communities. We see swelling prisons. And the ubiquity of cameras and social media have allowed many more people to understand the violence that is the foundation of our criminal legal system.
There is a growing consensus from across the political spectrum to reimagine what a criminal legal system could look like. But this will only happen if we elect people committed to reform at the local, state and national level.
There’s a broad range of criminal legal reformers. There are those who want to abolish prisons, disband ICE, and defund the police. There are those who want to legalize, regulate and tax things like drugs and sex work. There are those who want increased oversight of police, more due process for defendants, alternatives to incarceration for those convicted, and fewer hurdles to reentry for those who have completed their sentences. All of these people share an understanding that our criminal system is not working.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees on the need for change.
Across the country law enforcement has doubled down on their "need" to utilize military tactics and equipment, to avoid oversight and be immune from accountability. The courts have been reluctant to make changes that may slow the system down in the name of "justice". Jails and prisons insist that they maintain safe conditions for inmates despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Many people still buy into the myth that this harsh system is necessary for their safety. Even when there isn’t opposition, the institutions, customs, and habits that have maintained this system will persist unless there is a concerted effort at all levels to undo them.
To make this change happen, people need to vote for reformers in numbers that can overcome the myths, the apathy, and the opposition. Reform-minded people need to win federal elections, state elections, and local elections. Reforms need to happen concurrently in Congress, in the courts, in statehouses, and in local municipalities.
Reformers don’t have to agree on what reform will look like. They only have to be committed to changing the system as it currently exists.
But before the system can change, people have to vote.