Now is the time to re-imagine the criminal justice system. We must seriously consider these questions: who should be confined? Are we truly keeping order by jailing people who cannot afford fines and fees for misdemeanors? By punishing and imprisoning those with minor technical violations, or the inability to pay bail? By holding girls of color for status offenses? By criminalizing the unhoused population for trying to stay alive? By suspending and expelling African-American children—including preschool age—from schools and contributing to the carceral state?
The Aspen Institute’s new Criminal Justice Reform Initiative’s mission is to answer these questions and many more. To do so, we will partner with people and organizations to amplify and uplift policy and systems changes aimed at reducing mass incarceration within state and local jurisdictions. We will curate ongoing discussions with formerly incarcerated individuals, researchers, advocates, and policymakers in the field.
The initiative’s forthcoming Aspen Justice Network will play a critical role in this. The network will comprise 10 local jurisdictions around the country to generate a steady and sustainable drumbeat of data-driven and community-informed policymaking. This will be coordinated across the entire criminal justice continuum and repeated each year to provide communities an opportunity to learn from one other.
Working with the Justice Mapping Project, we’ll also launch a new tool, The Justice Audit. The need to institutionalize an annual audit of criminal justice services, particularly where they concentrate in disproportionately high doses, is more evident today than ever. The Justice Audit is especially attuned to these important dimensions. The Audit is designed to report and track the forms of governance, training, and oversight active in or absent from each criminal justice agency across the continuum, including the police. More importantly, the Audit is rooted in community-engaged development, transparency, and accountability in ways that push us toward a much needed form of community-involved justice.
Today’s world demands big dreams and big plans. We have both. To join our cause, sign up for our email list (below) and follow CJRI on Twitter.