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2016 Quest for Democracy

Next Monday (May 8th), groups from across California will come together in Sacramento to highlight the need for transformative justice policy reform that is strongly informed by the most impacted communities. CJCJ is proud to again advocate alongside our partners in the Free Our Dreams Day of Action (organized by the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, Movement Strategy Center, PolicyLink, and The California Endowment) and Quest for Democracy (organized by All of Us or None and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children). Both events will build on the strength and lived experience of those with direct justice system involvement to advocate for authentic reform that reduces incarceration and its collateral consequences.

Both events will convene youth, families, advocates, and justice-impacted leaders from across California to push for a shared legislative reform platform. Groups will meet with policymakers and their staff in the capital to highlight this justice reform agenda. This includes Senate Bill (SB) 190, co-sponsored by CJCJ, which ends the collection of juvenile justice fees related to legal representation, facility detention, and probation. Participants will also advocate for bills targeting bail reform and establishing a youth’s right to counsel before interrogation.

A large number of Californians are impacted by our justice system. In 2015, 2.2 million people were incarcerated in the U.S., and 6.7 million people were under correctional supervision. According to the most recently available data, California’s adult incarcerated population includes 181,956 in state prisons (April 2017) and approximately 75,000 in county jails (July 2016). Nearly 700 young people are in our state’s youth correctional system (February 2017) and roughly 6,350 youth are detained in local facilities (December 2015).

2016 Alliance for Boys and Men of Color Advocacy Day

Incarceration has long-lasting socioeconomic and political consequences for not only individuals in prison or jail, but for their families and communities. Justice involvement can result in future challenges, such as reducing the likelihood of graduating from high school by 13 percent or imposing barriers to employment and housing. These collateral consequences can also include reduced civic engagement. Northwestern Professor Traci Burch has studied how high rates of incarceration in particular neighborhoods can diminish voting among formerly incarcerated people and the broader community, which severely limits community influence in policymaking. Plus, the impact of incarceration is not applied equally, and can be disproportionately concentrated within parts of our cities or result in a system of justice by geography between counties.

Broad political engagement by communities most impacted by our justice system is a necessary condition for addressing these consequences and reforming policy. Community justice advocacy groups are pairing broad civic engagement and legislative strategies to create a new generation of justice leaders building from lived experience. If the true costs of our justice policies – that is, the socioeconomic collateral consequences including barriers to employment and housing – are found in our most impacted communities, then leadership for change begins there as well. Recent state initiatives reforming our justice system, including Propositions 47 and 57, succeeded as a result of broad grassroots mobilizations. Advocacy is stronger when it raises awareness about these true costs.

Free Our Dreams Day of Action and Quest for Democracy are both part of these positive developments. While the events take place in Sacramento, they are part of a broader network of local and state partnerships that focus on ending mass incarceration and highlighting the costs of our justice system. Sustainable justice reform must develop organically from those who understand the true costs and necessary solutions for our justice system. CJCJ, in partnership with MILPA, hopes to encourage community leadership development to continue this trend through its new Next Generation Fellowship. This fellowship, as well as Monday’s two events, embody this approach and recognize that California’s 58 counties, much like those nationally, are the future of justice reform. Lasting change will not develop in Sacramento unless it is formed first locally by community-based organizations, service providers, youth, justice-involved persons, and their families who best understand the need for a new approach to public safety.

Related links:

Next Generation Fellowship

CJCJ Co-sponsored Bills Clear Senate Policy Committees

A Quest for Democracy in Sacramento