Mass. Criminal Justice Reform by Grace Pirez
Reforming the criminal justice system is a concern at the forefront of many activists’ minds. Since its creation, the American criminal justice system has broken up countless families through its harsh sentencings for relatively minor transgressions. There are generations of mothers and fathers, imprisoned for their transgressions against the law. Oftentimes these mothers and fathers belong to minority communities. Whether intentional or unintentional, there is a trend in the population of the incarcerated. The NAACP details the racial disparities in incarceration rates, noting that if African Americans and Latinos were incarcerated at the same rate as Caucasians, the total number of prisoners would decrease by forty percent. Forty percent is a hefty number, considering that there are approximately 2.3 million adults incarcerated in the United States. The passage of the reform bill through the Massachusetts senate was a big step forward, but we can take further initiatives in order to ensure that those incarcerated truly deserve to be locked away.
Activists have presented an alternative method of handling cases in which the accused is a parent. Parents are fundamental to a child’s growth and development and broken families can lead to a vast array of emotional and developmental issues for children. The aforementioned activists are proposing an alternative to the regular sentencing for crimes. Guardians would be able to opt for rehabilitating experiences such as job training, counseling, and other beneficial courses— preventing them from spending time behind bars (and most importantly, away from their children). Instead of having people waste away in a cell at the mercy of punitive justice, transgressors could learn to handle their problems and work on fixing them. As of right now, imprisoning people for petty crimes only serves to show that some people have little to no value placed on a human life. While it is important to listen to victims and acknowledge their experiences, the justice system should not be based upon revenge. Parents should be with their children, and an alternative form of handling certain crimes can help a child avoid the trauma of separation. The whole family feels the strain of a missing member, with spouses struggling to cover expenses for themselves and their children. Not only would the reform benefit the justice system and those who would be incarcerated, but it would also keep the well-being of families and children as the focus.
Massachusetts Senator William N. Brownsberger offers a bill and activists such as Andrea James (founder of Families for Justice as Healing) have vocalized their support for the change. We stand with them. We believe that all children deserve the right to a happy and healthy childhood. This bill will help ensure that fewer children in Massachusetts will have to experience the pain of losing a guardian to a flawed justice system.