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CJCJ staff present on criminal justice policy & reform

On Monday July 9, 2012 I co-presented with my colleague Gerald Miller on criminal justice policy and reform efforts to a group of college students from throughout Northern California.  The students were participating in the Bay Area Urban Project , a 6-week urban immersion program that explores the major issues affecting lower-income communities in cities through a theological lens.  The students in this program study immigration policy, education disparities, human trafficking, and other social justice issues.

Students were lead through a series of simulations to highlight disparities in the criminal justice system based on race and class, uneven sentencing practices, and the challenges that offenders face when leaving institutional confinement.  Students were shocked to learn about issues like the impact of determinate sentencing laws in California and the role that the bail industry plays in the large rates of county jail inmates who are incarcerated for extended periods before seeing a judge.

Gerald related his amazing story of transformation from offender to criminal justice reform leader in San Francisco and across the country.  The students asked detailed questions about what life was like "behind the walls" and found hope in his story of rehabilitation.  He also covered current policies like adult realignment and re-entry and aftercare services.

After Gerald spoke, each student shared how they had been impacted by our presentation, and it was clear from their remarks that they took it to heart.  Several students had family members in the criminal justice system or had been victims of crimes themselves. One young man related that Gerald's story helped him better understand why his own dad had such a hard time "making it on the outside".  Students were outraged to hear about the level of mismanagement within prison facilities.  Some reflected that they had always just assumed that the criminal justice system was fair, but their eyes were opened to the disparities and the economic-drivers that contribute to the massive expansion of the prison system.

After the students shared, Gerald commented that he had given pretty much this same presentation all over the world, including to students at Harvard and Oxford, yet this group of students "got it at the heart level" far more than any group he'd encountered.  The students receptivity and depth of insight provided lots of encouragement to both CJCJ staff as it was clear that the future of criminal justice reform efforts in California and nationwide will be in good hands if this group was any indication.

Keywords: Brian Heller de Leon, community corrections, economy, Gerald Miller, presentation

Posted in Blog, Social Justice

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