In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new kind of abolitionists. They want to abolish prisons and those aspects of the government that make prisons possible including having police departments. Of course all abolitionists are not alike and some have more rigid expectations while others seem to have more realizable goals. And neither is it a recent phenomenon. It may date back to the 60’s with the ideas of Angela Davis and with the work of trail blazers like Ruth Wilson Gilmore. What gave this movement flight however was CNN host Van Jones suggesting several years ago that the prison population should be cut by half. Then he was criticized but things have sufficiently changed he is now hailed. What is new is that many committed to reform the criminal justice system have endorsed some of the abolitionists’ ideas. Closing Riker’s Island prison in New York City for example was once thought ridiculous, but it no longer is. Besides incarceration, probation is also being looked at including the possible use of ATM-like machines through which people could check in without having to report to a probation officer. Other ideas that seem to have traction are what crimes should be prosecuted as well as the seeking of out of court remedies. Still another idea filtering through to a more general acceptance is that the system as it is creates harm seriously mitigating whatever public safety it yields. Those who work toward criminal justice reform from within the system can be frustrated by die-hard abolitionists who would want to not only abolish the whole structure but redirect the monies spent on it. But an outsider like me can be indebted to both for instigating long overdue reforms and looking to continue reforming a system that is no longer serving the society, and much less the human beings caught within it.
Twenty five years from now the US will look different. It will be darker and older. Those we now call minorities will be the majority by 2045. There will be more immigrants than ever before in the country, and since there will be more people over 65 than children, they will have to help carry the economic burden of so many on social security—assuming it is still viable. The census projections that give us these numbers remind us that although the white non college educated evangelical men who help elect Donald Trump will be a minority, that will not mean that racial tensions will disappear. Christians will also cease to be a majority. There will be more Muslims than Jews, and about a fourth of the population will call themselves non-affiliated with any religious tradition.
So much behind Trump’s election and its aftermath, about the loyalty of his base seems to me at least, a backlash against race, against having had 8 years of a black president whose Muslim parentage was not understood. And now sheer demographics and sheer facts make the very people Trump and his supporters are and were trying to avoid on their way to be the controlling majority.
California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra joined Democratic presidential candidates Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke in asking for the decriminalization of illegal immigration. Beccera says that civil penalties are enough that criminal charges demonize people whose only crime is seeking a better life. Castro had earlier made a policy proposal to eliminate the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 1325 which makes unauthorized entry into the country a federal misdemeanor. Section 1326 asks for further penalties for subsequent reentries. Those are the statutes used by the Trump administration to separate families and prosecute migrants. Becerra, Castro, O’Rourke and others who may subscribe to the idea know that it is not likely to succeed with this administration, that at best it is a good campaign slogan. And it does look like it is emerging as a Democratic Party talking point.
It’s an important idea, and although it is unlikely to bring relief to those now at the border, it nevertheless needs to be remembered and talked about so that its future as a reality can be that much sooner.
A Rand 2018 study found that inmates in correctional facilities who participated in educational programs were 28% less likely to recidivate. In addition the United States Sentencing Commission found that inmates with less than a high school diploma were 60% more likely to be subject to recidivism and those with a college degree had only a 19% chance to relapse into criminal behavior. Several recent studies have pointed out the importance of education for inmates and the Rand analysis states “Every dollar invested in correctional education saves nearly five in re incarceration costs over three years.” As a result of such studies a bipartisan bill is being proposed in Congress. It would reinstate Pell Grants for inmates and thus acquires added importance. The Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center for Poverty and inequality showed that restoring Pell Grants for inmates would not only increase their employment, in this case by 10%, but increase their collective earning in the first year by $45 million. Obviously if it passes, the bill which would affect 463,000 prisoners, would improve their lives after incarceration, and therefore benefit all of us. It is equally worth noting that not only is this bill a bipartisan effort in super partisan times, it also recognizes the importance of education in correctional facilities—something that’s been forgotten!