It is crucial that we are strategic and concise in our demands throughout our fight for justice! To change the system we must first understand how it negatively affects us.
First, let me start by stating that every aspect of the criminal justice system needs to be made more just, fair, and overall better to ensure that it is placing more focus on rehabilitating offenders rather than just punishing them. The criminal justice system is meant to rehabilitate offenders in theory, however, there is a major discrepancy on how rehabilitation should occur, whether it be through tough punishment or actual rehabilitation programs. Here is my proposal for demands, in regards to the criminal justice system once the protests begin to die down some. Keep in mind that black people are given the short end of the stick throughout all institutions in America, but given that this is a criminal justice blog I will focus on those issues.
End Mass Incarceration
Enhance Prison Conditions
Redevelop Drug Policies
End Cash Bail
Reframe Policing Policies
We need to put an end to mass incarceration in the United States by changing the penalties that are attached to drug laws and non-violent offenses. According to the BOP as of May 2020, 45.9% of offenders convicted of drug offenses make up the prison population. My proposal is that drug use is decriminalized. This will decrease the amount of individual's currently incarcerated and assist in the fight to end mass incarceration. I will speak more on this topic under the drug policies section. The next step is to decrease jail/prison time for non-violent offenders, primarily if it is their first offense. Another crucial step is to weed out individual's who should be and would benefit from being sent to rehabilitation programs versus being imprisoned. The reality is, not everyone is meant to go to jail/prison instead some of them need the intensive rehabilitation programs. Mandatory minimums at both the state and federal level should be eliminated as they contribute to harsh inhumane punishments and they contribute to the "get tough" mentality. The ideology of enforcing get tough laws should be abolished as it disproportionately directed at blacks in America. There is a notion in America that blacks aren't allowed to make any mistakes because when they do they should be held to the highest extent of the law. It is egregious that whites aren't subjected to the same harsh mentality in terms of justice being served.
Prison conditions as a whole are lacking in various ways from the physical conditions of the prisons to the lack of actual rehabilitation being done. Please don't misinterpret what I am saying here, prison is a form of punishment when a crime is committed and is not necessarily meant to be easy, however, incarcerated individuals are human too. They deserve better: better food, better living conditions, better healthcare, and overall better opportunities to be released back into society better people than they were when they entered the system. In order to do this prisons need more and better programs to teach trades, and more diverse education opportunities.Prisons need effective drug rehabilitation programs as drug addiction is an illness. This brings me to my next point, prisons need to crack down on contraband smuggling as that contributes to the ongoing issue of drug use and abuse. Mental health counseling and parenting programs should be offered. Correctional Officers should be responsible for keeping close records of each individual inmate for their duration of being incarcerated in order to work in coordination with probation and parole officers and other officials who will help the offender upon their release. This will help individualized reentry programs to be created to assist the offender in becoming a functioning member of society. Prison condition reform applies to african americans as we are disproportionately represented in the prison system despite making up such a small amount of the total population in the United States. We are fighting for total reform, we cannot forget about those who are currently behind bars. I am aware that these proposals require money and resources.
The decriminalization of marijuana is a huge step forward in decreasing mass incarceration rates, HOWEVER, one can't help but wonder with the decriminalization of marijuana what it means for those already serving time for marijuana involved offenses. I personally think that each case is circumstantial and not everyone incarcerated for marijuana charges should be released depending on the circumstances surrounding their sentence. If the marijuana charges are attached to other charges then the person shouldn't be released, but perhaps they should have time shaved off of their sentence and that removed from their record. In those cases where marijuana is the sole reason for incarceration they should be released and those charges shouldn't be on their record. There is no reason that someone should have to carry a marijuana charge on their record which can negatively effect them because they technically have a criminal record when marijuana is slowly but surely becoming legalized. This is a complex issue, I will admit because even though marijuana is becoming decriminalized there are still limits on the amount that can be in ones possession.Marijuana laws in my opinion should be clear cut and consistent across state and federal institutions.
My next proposal which I'm sure is controversial, however, it is my opinion is that drug use should be decriminalized. With that being said I think that the focus of punishing people for drug offenses should be on those who are selling and trafficking them both on a small and a large scale. I cannot comprehend why a drug user, as long as they are not committing other crimes should be sent to jail or prison. They should have the option of being sent to rehab. The issue with sending drug users to jail and prison is that they do not always get the help that they need as the prison system isn't equipped to assist them. Law enforcement should focus on large scale operations. Drug users upon their apprehension should be subjected to drug courts or a panel made up of a variety of health care professionals to assist in making a plan for them to follow. With that being said, users should have a specific amount of strikes before more serious actions are taken. This will help to increase mass incarceration and let us not forget about the War on Drugs which was created to criminalize black people disproportionately in comparison to whites. This is important in our fight against justice as drugs plague our black communities.
The War on Drugs was sparked with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 which created mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking and distribution. The quantity of the drug was the determining factor in drafting the minimum for the sentence. As a result of this there was a large amount of high level drug dealers who had large amounts of powder cocaine or heroin who faced a minimum of 10 years imprisonment. Medium level drug dealers faced a minimum of 5 years. In 1988 Congress made the decision to include conspiracy in drug offenses to carry a mandatory minimum of 2 years. In 1988 the act established a mandatory minimum for crack cocaine. This drug became the main focus of the War on Drugs.This is where the disparity came into play; crack and powder cocaine have the same chemical composition, but crack can be smoked and distributed at a cheaper price on the street. Crack cocaine was associated with the commission of violent crimes. The penalties for the possession of the two differed as first time offenders caught with 5 grams of crack cocaine were sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 5 years, while being caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine would serve 5 years. Now if you connect all three of those sentences together, you come to the conclusion that black and impoverished people were the target group of strict drug laws.
To say the least, more money and resources need to be allocated to jail/prison re-entry programs. Programs need to be created to assist in creating job opportunities for offenders as they are looking to develop a good quality of life. Offenders need jobs upon their release to support themselves and their families. This will help in lowering recidivism rates. Let me make this clear, extremely clear-EACH RE-ENTRY PROGRAM NEEDS TO BE INDIVIDUALIZED. There is no general, one fits all program that can assist in helping offenders being reintegrated into society. Each individual has their own risks and needs that need to be assessed in order to make a comprehensive plan for them. This goes to say that there needs to be a clear understanding by the people making these plans of the sociological factors that influenced the person to commit the crime in the first place. In terms of the black community, the logical level of understanding, however how logical it actually is due to the widespread either lack of knowledge or pure ignorance, is to know and understand that blacks are systematically placed below whites in institutions in the United States. When I say institutions I mean schools, jobs, real estate, loans, and overall opportunities. Those in the criminal justice positions who enact and enforce laws should be well versed in criminological theories that pose reasons for why people commit certain crimes. For example, there is a strain theory, which states that impoverished people lack the same opportunities and resources to obtain wealth. Robert Merton theorized that society heavily emphasizes wealth as the end goal in life and the obtainment of the "American Dream" while deemphasizing legal means to achieve it. Thus people turn to crime to obtain money, as money is the sole representative of success in America. This theory can be applied to other avenues besides money, as lower class people have a lack of equal education opportunities and resources. Sociological theories also examine the neighborhoods and communities that individual's live in and how that influences them to commit crimes.
The most applicable theory in terms of whites and blacks is the conflict theory. This theory states that in society money=power. Thus making those with the most money in society the law enactors and enforcers. The ideologies of those with power in society are embedded into our laws. Our laws, or should we say their laws, are a reflection of their ideologies on different issues and for the sake of this blog, black people. These same people make laws and change them to protect and promote their best interest. We often wonder why we can commit a crime and be severely punished but a rich person can commit the same crime and receive a slap on the wrist. This is because those with power in society make and tweak laws to make it that their actions are never criminalized. This theory illustrates how the criminal justice system wasn't and isn't necessarily meant to protect us but rather continue to punish and oppress us. This is why it is important for us to get into positions of power and then lift up other blacks. To conclude this section, if we are aware and can acknowledge the corrupt system we can change it to keep it from decriminalizing us. This is where the real reform needs to occur.
End Cash Bail
This is an important point that most people are probably unaware of. Cash bail essentially criminalizes people of low socioeconomic status. Upon reading the title of this section, one might be questioning what is wrong with cash bail, well the issue is that not everyone can afford to pay their bail in cash. The court in the jurisdiction in which the offender goes to is able to set an amount of money that the offender must pay in order to be released. The money is meant to be held to ensure that the offender shows up for their court date. The issue with this is that if the offender cannot afford to pay their cash bail, how much farther will they be set back if they are forced to sit behind bars missing work. Cash bail digs impoverished people into a deeper economic crisis. Another issue with this is that it could potentially leave people behind bars who shouldn't necessarily be there as they pose no threat to society based on their crime.The solution to this is to end cash bail and redesign the system or set of guidelines that determines whether or not an individual is to be in jail while they await their court date. This goes along with the sad truth that blacks are guilty until proven innocent, because instead of them being subjected to cash bail that they cannot pay they should be innocent until proven guilty and released on their own recognizance and the prosecution should be forced to show/prove that they are guilty and should be behind bars. Please keep in mind that I am not referring to serious and violent offenses.
This by far is the most crucial and important reform that needs to be made on my list as it leads to all of the other topics.First things first, police officers need to be screened more coherently when being considered for the police academy. There should be tests to look for red flags that show negative feelings towards different races in america and negative reactions to situations with high tension. Individual's should be screened through situational based tests to gauge their reactions and potential harmful actions in specific situations. They should also be subjected to questionnaires that examine their ideologies on controversial topics that might affect their ability to do their jobs. Upon being accepted to the academy, officers should receive training on how to deescalate situations without the use of excessive force and weapons, especially in situations were these actions are unwarranted. Officers should also be forced to undergo mental health training and screenings. Officers should be trained on how to handle individual's with mental health disorders, rather than viewing them as a threat or an excuse to brutalize and murder black people. There should be situation based training for officers that exposes them to a wide variety of instances they may encounter in the field. There responses should effect the freedom they are given to patrol once they graduate from the academy. Officers should also be subjected to strict training on how to not excessively react in situations with innocent people. Most importantly, officers need to be taught that the brown as the color of someone's skin is not a threat. If officers do not agree they should not be allowed to continue the academy. Officers must be taught the correct and incorrect way to restrain individuals as to not cause excessive damage or loss of life. Overall, if an officer cannot serve and protect because they let their ideologies fog their vision and actions then they do not deserve to carry a badge. Police agencies need to use evidence based practices and policies, that is they keep data and do research on practices that work and those that do not. The practices and policies that don't work should be disregarded. Also, police agencies should be required to collect and keep data and records on the individual officers employed in their department as well as what the department does as a whole. This data needs to be made readily available to the public as they should be informed about what's going on.
To help protect black individuals and ensure that justice will be served, the Undeniable Justice Act should be passed. This act would be representative of the fact that black people who lose their lives at the hands of law enforcement are owed undeniable justice as well as those who are brutalized by the police. When their is undeniable evidence that an innocent life has been taken by a police officer unjustly, it is UNDENIABLE THAT JUSTICE SHOULD BE SERVED. This act would clearly define the penalties of committing these heinous acts and what constitutes as a crime punishable under this act. In addition, this act should constitute as a hate crime.The act should state the following:
Any law enforcement officer who engages in the following acts should be guilty under the Undeniable Justice Act:
Who shows a gross disregard for human life through the excessive beating or use of a weapon to take the life of a black individual
Who abuses their power as an officer of the law to carry out racist ideologies in harming those who they are meant to protect
Who commits egregious acts to prohibit the public from recording, videoing or making any record of their unlawful acts
Who inhumanely takes the life of a black individual through the use of condemned police tactics
This act can very well be applicable to citizens who also show a gross disregard for black life as they continue to senselessly murder us.