Sunday, July 10, 2016

How Can We Decarcerate Locally?

As laws that govern criminal justice are mostly enacted at the state or federal level it might not be readily apparent what can be done at the local level – including by those with political power or educational power as mayors, local council or committee members or school board members.  However there are several ways that local governing bodies and even individual local elected officials and board members as well as candidates can have positive impact on the Decarceration struggle.  This piece will offer some suggestions as to the kinds of things that can be done.  There are probably many other additional actions and measures that can be taken to aid this progress.

Mayor / Council / Committee

 A council can pass a resolution supporting, for example, NJ Decarceration Act we had proposed calling for 50% reduction in NJ’s incarceration, as well as other decarcerating measures.  Of course that would include issuing a press release and notifying the entire NJ legislative body and the governor about the resolution and urging action.

A council and mayor can direct the police to focus attention away from nuisance behavior issues, cannabis and other low level drug enforcement, stop and frisk /broken windows policies of police enforcement, etc.

The mayor and council / committee can pull the files of the police to look for racial determinants in how they arrest, who they arrest, how they charge, how many charges they press for similar crimes, what they dismiss and do not dismiss – a total statistical analysis to determine where racial factors and other unsavory police practices are being applied.  The purpose should be two-fold – to make staff corrections (reductions possibly which could provide savings) and apply other corrective measures and secondly to identify those whose lives were adversely affected and take legal action to get them relief from possible unjust convictions and sentencing.

The mayor and council / committee can research the local residency and citizenry and identify those that are incarcerated and families who have members that are incarcerated.  The local governing body members can reach out to the families and offer to help them seek redress if there were possibly racial factors or other unsavory factors applied in their incarceration or if they are incarcerated for minimalist crimes that should not result in incarceration.  They can assist in advocacy for amnesty and commutation.

Police budgeting issues need to be reviewed with an eye toward shifting resources toward providing youth services and other services that meet the community needs and improve the quality of local life.

Local judges and prosecutors can be interviewed before hiring to assure that they are not mass incarcerators and that they can apply leniency when appropriate.  The practice of sentencing those who can not afford fines should be ended.  While bail reform is pending, local courts can implement the measures sooner and stop requiring bail from indigent defendants on low level crimes immediately instead of awaiting for the bail reform implementation.  This would also provide savings in jail costs.

The idea of using criminal justice fines assessment as a revenue source needs to be completely abandoned.

The mayor and council can assure that requests for Decarceration activities on streets and in public buildings are approved quickly without too much red tape or attempts to tax free speech through imposition of fees for street usage, for example. 

The local governing body can itself provide organizing for panel discussions and other events where the issue of mass incarceration is opposed.

When there are cases of corruption in the courts or the police station among police, the local governing body needs to assure that all cases that were tainted by the corruption.  In the case of a police officer, cases need to be evaluated to determine if there still would have been a guilty verdict without the evidence proffered by the corrupted officer.  The city needs to take legal action to provide relief to those incarcerated due to such flawed evidence.  Same if a judge or prosecutor is determined to be corrupt – the cases they presided over need to be reviewed and sentencing relief provided in such cases.  The onus is on the city to take the legal action to bring about the relief if it was the city’s employees that have been proven to be corrupted.

This list is a work in progress – if you have more ideas for the list call or text 908-881-5275 or write .

We will be consolidating the above into a petition to local governing bodies and be starting one in each city where we are doing work.

The following are suggested actions of school boards:

Develop a decarceration curriculum and integrate it into social studies including history of the mass incarceration, discussions around what interests it serves, the entities that profit from it both in a for profit and federal, state and local run system, the 13th Amendment incarceration exclusion maintaining enslavement of the incarcerated and the growing struggle challenging same, conditions in NJ and US systems, the racial dynamics including NJ nationally leading 12:1 statistic in the likelihood of incarceration for it’s Black vs. white residency.

Another curriculum change needed is the subject of Individual Rights Awareness.  This is especially true because in one way or another – local school districts are managing their discipline handling in a way that involves police and county prosecutors.  All too often youths are able to tricked by police into incriminating themselves – often about things they really have no connection to, ending up with lengthy incarceration terms.  Students need to be taught what their rights are, how to assert their rights, the law and history of such individual rights.

Work with teachers to encourage the creation of Decarceration student advocacy chapters to plug into statewide and national efforts.   Assure that the board and the superintendent are supportive and that the groups get full recognition but without any attempts by the administration to control the political positions taken by the groups.

Support students who express a decarcerating message or a message about racialized policing through their art or otherwise through their school project work.  Stand up to police union bullies that try to force administrative action against the students and their teacher.

When teachers like Marylin Zuniga allow students – regardless of the grade level – to do a decarcerating action like writing a get-well letter to an incarcerated man or woman who is facing deteriorating health due to medical neglect – support her and defend her instead of allowing some leader of an out of state cop union whose organization is wrought with corruption, violence, racism, etc. to force a local board to join in a political lynch mob against the teacher.

This list is a work in progress – if you have more ideas for the list call or text 908-881-5275 or write .

Individual Representatives / Campaigning for Election
Of course as an individual, you can urge the governing body you are part of to take the above suggested actions, all, one or some of them.  It is best to do so publicly to put it on the record where you stand.  You can also help motivate your constituents to participate – to form a local Decarceration committee to work on Decarceration projects.  You can write statements as an individual supporting legislative action or events like NJ’s September 9 Solidarity efforts. 

This all goes for those campaigning for office.  However in that case you should make clear that you are going to continue to fight for Decarceration whether you are elected or not – and of course you should follow through on that election year pledge in either case.

No comments:

Post a Comment