African-American incarceration is an epidemic in the US

Mass incarceration is a national epidemic, and we must recognize the necessity of advocating for criminal justice reform – regardless of party identification, religious affiliation, or other differences. According to a Brown University student’s research, today, there are more African-American individuals involved in the justice system than there were slaves in 1850, and according to The National Employment Law Project, an estimated 65 million Americans have a criminal record. Too many individuals have been affected by the justice system, and we must do more as a community to ensure that these horrifying statistics become a part of our nation’s past.

Instead of continuing the status-quo of criminal justice, why not focus on advocacy for fair sentencing and rehabilitation? Why not work to abolish mandatory minimums, reform drug policy and provide a hand up to those with criminal records? Each and every one of us can make a difference in the fight for reform. Work with lawmakers and local businesses to enact fair chance hiring policies, or donate your time to organizations that work alongside justice involved citizens. Doing your part to simply reduce the stigma of criminal records can help these individuals get the encouragement and resources they need to successfully reintegrate back into society.

The current system has caused more harm than good in our society. Instead of treating drug use as a health concern, our justice system throws non-violent individuals in overcrowded jails and prisons for extensive sentences – instead of helping them obtain the recovery resources they need. The traditional “tough on crime” approach pits low socio-economic communities against law enforcement – causing extreme tension that can stretch for generations. I long for a society that prioritizes rehabilitation over excessive punishment, and one that assists in the reintegration of justice-involved citizens in order to prevent future recidivism. These individuals are faced with a lifetime of stigma due to their record, and are in need of community assistance and support. I hope that reform is near. A shift in our approach to criminal justice would make our streets safer, our communities more harmonious, and our society more just.

Nan Tolson, McKinney Senior