We Need Smart Criminal Justice Reform


The headline of the 2014 midterm elections – and understandably so – was the dominating performance of the Republican Party in both federal and state races. As new officials prepare to take office, it is important that they not lose sight of an important lesson from Election Day: voters\’ desire for smart criminal justice reform and their fatigue with empty tough on crime rhetoric.

As a pastor who has worked in prison ministry, I have seen our criminal justice system up close and understand that it is dire need of reform. For decades, the prison population in the US has skyrocketed as policies have focused on incarcerating for longer periods of time more people, including nonviolent offenders. The majority of those affected by this troubled policy are people of color who have been incarcerated at an alarmingly high rate in relation to their percentage of the population.

It was evident on election night that there is now a real pushback against these policies. Most notably in California, Proposition 47 passed by a comfortable margin. This proposition will reclassify a number of nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors, reduce the prison population, and save California hundreds of millions of dollars. Across the country, voters sent a message that it was time to rein in the problem of over-criminalization.

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Dr. Antipas L. Harris
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