Innocent until proven guilty. Fairness. Justice. Those are the values that guide our legal system, right? Well, maybe for some, but definitely not for all. America locks people up at a higher rate than any other country on earth — and bias is baked right in. If you’re a person of color or struggling to make ends meet, you’re much more likely to be sent to prison — for a longer period of time — than a white person convicted of the same crime.
It’s time for change. Join us as we learn more about front-end criminal justice reform and how transforming the system can benefit everyone.
Color Of Change is the nation’s largest online racial justice organization.
They help people respond effectively to injustice in the world around us. As a national online force driven by more than 1.4 million members, they move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America.
Advancement Project is a next generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice, they exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive and just democracy. They use innovative tools and strategies to strengthen social movements and achieve high impact policy change.
The US criminal justice system is broken. There are more than 2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails, making the US the world’s leader in incarceration—with more people locked up per capita than any other country. Moreover, people of color are dramatically overrepresented in the nation’s prisons and jails. These racial disparities are particularly stark for Black Americans, who make up 40% of the incarcerated population despite representing only 13% of US residents. Criminal justice reform is an effort to address these issues and fix the nation’s broken criminal justice system.
Front-end criminal justice reform involves efforts aimed at deflecting and diverting people away from incarceration by investing resources into building safe and thriving communities.
The US incarcerates some 10,000 youths in adult jails and prisons. Youths sentenced as adults receive an adult criminal record, which restricts them from many employment and educational opportunities as well as financial aid. Studies show that a lack of education and employment means higher chances of recidivism. This is why youths who go through the adult system are 34% more likely than their peers in the juvenile system to be re-arrested.
Cash bail is a monetary deposit required by the court to secure the temporary release of someone who is arrested and charged with a criminal offense. It is meant to guarantee the appearance of the defendant at all future court proceedings. However, the use of cash bail has become a way to discriminate against the poor because people without means cannot afford to pay for their freedom, or alternatively, they must take out loans from bail companies that charge excessive fees.
More than 60% of people locked up in America’s jails are innocent (they have not yet been to trial and have not been convicted of anything) and as many as 9 in 10 of those people are stuck in jail because they can’t afford bail. Black people, Latinxs, and Native Americans are twice as likely as white people to be stuck in jail because they can’t afford bail. Many people who find themselves in this situation were arrested for nonviolent, low-level offenses and are considered low-risk defendants (in that the chances of them not showing up in court are low). But studies show that the longer people are held in jail pretrial, the more likely they are to commit crimes upon release, and the less likely they are to show up for future court appearances.
Prosecutors wield a lot of power in the US criminal justice system. They have decision-making authority at multiple stages of a criminal prosecution, including charging decisions, plea agreements, and sentencing recommendations. Many felony convictions are not decided by judges and juries, but they are the result of plea bargains— an agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant whereby the defendant is permitted to plead guilty to a reduced charge. Some 94% of convictions result from plea bargains at the state level, and some 97% at the federal level. Estimates for misdemeanor convictions are even higher.
The issue with cops in schools is less about cops and more about local policies and practices involving the use of law enforcement officers in schools. The presence of law enforcement in schools is nothing new. School Resource Officers (SROs) have been in schools since the 1950s. They perform many functions, including educator, mentor/informal counselor, and law enforcement officer. But cops in schools becomes a bad thing when they are tasked with enforcing school discipline—for which they are not suitably trained. Turning over school discipline to police officers also means that students (especially, and disproportionately, students of color) are brought into the criminal justice system, with lifelong consequences (e.g., criminal record, distrust of police, trouble completing school work, lower likelihood of graduating, increased likelihood of future arrests, etc.).
The total estimated cost of incarcerating people was $182 billion in 2017. By comparison, the federal budget for 2017 provided $82.8 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Health and Human Services and $69.4 billion for the Department of Education (ED). Moreover, the total estimated cost of incarcerating people in 2017 was higher than the $139.7 billion in proposed new spending for ED over the next decade.