Answers from Red States for Our Broken Criminal Justice System

    Left, right or center, few dispute that our criminal justice system is broken. But two new and thrilling victories this month are giving real hope to activists who want more effective and humane crimes policies. 

    In a largely “red” state,” Missouri, Governor Jay Nixon signed the popular and thoroughly bipartisan “Ban the Ban” bill into law. The act, supported by Metropolitan Congregations United and MORE2, will end the food stamps ban for those jailed on drug convictions. During the floor vote a visibly moved state legislator said that thanks to personal visits by faith-based leaders and formerly incarcerated people, she now understood why food stamps are so important to those who are trying to stay sober.

    And in an even more “red” state, officials in Fulton County, Georgia, voted to “Ban the Box,”  the infamous question on employment applications “Have you ever been convicted….”  This move will dramatically help once incarcerated people to get jobs. Faith-based ABLE, and 9 to 5‘s coalition to pass this measure has been wildly successful: earlier this year, the City of Atlanta and Dekalb County adopted nearly identical legislation. 

    Let’s hope Wisconsin becomes the next state to jump aboard this encouraging bandwagon.

    Last week, WISDOM kicked off a “Reform Now” campaign and started a firestorm with its assertion that the Wisconsin Department of Corrections is failing to parole nearly 3,000 inmates it believes can and should be released.

    According to the Rev. Jerry Hancock of Madison, who heads the United Church of Christ’s prison ministry, “These inmates cost the state of Wisconsin $96 million a year. If that money were invested in treatment alternatives or diversions, it would save the state of Wisconsin almost $200 million.”

    Once they’re free and able to find work, former inmates need ways to feed their families and get back on their feet.  A simple way to reduce crime (and also to help young people with college debt) would be to raise our minimum wage. Earlier today, at 10:10 a.m., the Department of Labor hosted a social media fest to advocate for an increase in minimum wage—to $10.10 an hour. According to DOL, the minimum wage was worth 47 percent more in 1968 than it is today.  It’s time for a raise for all – check out the hash tag #1010now.

    (Photo of July 9 press conference in Wisconson used with permission.)

    Laura Barrett is the executive director Interfaith Worker Justice.


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