Answers from Red States for Our Broken Criminal Justice System

Posted by Laura Barrett on July 23, 2014

Left, right or center, few dispute that our criminal justice system is broken. But two new and thrilling victories this month are giving real hope to activists who want  more effective and humane crimes policies. 

In a largerly "red state", Missouri, Governor Jay Nixon signed the popular and thoroughly bi-partisan "Ban the Ban" bill into law.  The act, supported by Metropolitan Congregations United and MORE2, will end the food stamps ban that those jailed on drug convictions faced. During the floor vote a visibly moved state legislator said that she now understood why food stamps are so important to those who are trying to stay sober; personal visits by faith-based leaders and formerly incarcerated people changed her mind.

And in and even more "red" state, officials in Fulton County Georgia voted to "Ban the Box";  the infamous question on employment applications "Have you ever been convicted...".  This move will dramatically help once incarcerated people to get jobs. Faith-based ABLE, and 9 to 5's coalition to pass this measure has been wildly successful: earlier this year, the City of Atlanta and Dekalb County adopted nearly identical legislation. 

Let's hope Wisconsin becomes the next state to jump aboard this encouraging band wagon.  Last week, WISDOM kicked off a "Reform Now" campaign last week and started a fire storm with its assertion that the Wisconsin Department of Corrections is failing to parole nearly 3,000 inmates who they believe can and should be released.

According to Rev. Jerry Hancock, of Madison, who heads the United Church of Christ's prison ministry:  "These inmates cost the state of Wisconsin $96 million a year, if that money were invested in treatment alternatives or diversions, it would save the state of Wisconsin almost $200 million."

Once they're free and able to find work, former inmates need ways to feed their families and get back on their feet.  A simple way to reduce crime (and also to help young people with college debt) would be to raise our minimum wage. On July 24th the Department of Labor will be hosting a social media fest at 10:10 am to advocate for an increase in minimum wage - to $10.10 an hour. According to DOL, the minimum wage was worth 47% more in 1968 than it is today.  It's time for a raise for all - check out the hash tag #1010now.

About the author more »

Laura Barrett is the National Campaign Director for Gamaliel and Transportation Equity Network.

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