The President and Criminal Justice Reform

 President Obama is the first American president to ever visit a prison. And certainly, he is the first to break with the 'law and order' consensus that has guided both parties over the past forty years. It is a big deal. But how do we, the organizers and leaders who have been working on various aspects of criminal justice reform these past several years, make use of the President's symbolic gesture?  

The problem of mass incarceration is about much more than  who is, and how many are in prison right now. It is about the criminalization of entire communities and classes of people. Which puts them outside the circle of concern. Does this change because we close down some prisons? Not likely. Which is not to say, so don't bother trying to help more people get out of prison. It is to say, let us insist on addressing the conditions that those released from prison are likely to encounter --- the same conditions that marked them for a life of stigma and dehumanization in the first place. 

And are we going to address privatization as part of reforming criminal justice, or will reforms become vehicles for more privatization? Listening to  the spokesman for the Koch Brothers, it sounds like a ploy to expand privatization of the entire carceral apparatus (as parole services have been privatized).

There are so many questions that we must insist on having answered, as policy people move toward crafting bipartisan legislation. And questions we need to ask ourselves, as advocates. Is there a role we can play in the reform arena? If so, how do we do it with integrity?