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Fighting For A Future: Millennials Tackle Criminal Justice Reform

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Millennials are coming of age in a time of great uncertainty. Still suffering from the economic consequences of coming of working age during the Great Recession, Millennials simultaneously face the struggles of the soaring cost of higher education, rampant gun violence, and a broken criminal justice system. Issues of criminal justice reform like mass incarceration, sentencing reform, recidivism and re-entry, community policing, and police brutality place a particularly heavy burden on young people. Research shows that young people of color are significantly more likely to be incarcerated than white youth. Additionally, young people are killed by police at higher rates than other age groups.

Widespread attention to cases of police brutality, including the murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Freddie Gray, and more, have demonstrated how young people are on the front lines of advocating for criminal justice reform. But while their activism is often seen, their policy proposals are not always heard. Consequently, Generation Progress embarked on a Millennial Criminal Justice Roundtable tour of four American cities, with the goal of identifying Millennial-driven solutions to the real, immediate, and systemic problems of an unfair criminal justice system.

Working closely with Bruce Franks, a member of Generation Progress’ #Fight4AFuture Gun Violence Prevention and Criminal Justice Reform Network and a community leader in his hometown of St. Louis, Generation Progress traveled to Columbia, S.C.; Baltimore, Md.; Phoenix, Ariz.; and Dallas, Texas. A diverse group of stakeholders—activists, organizers, policy experts, academics, advocates, law enforcement agents, elected officials, and entrepreneurs—were convened to engage in open, honest, and intentional conversations around criminal justice reform.

Franks’ own success developing community-based programs served as a model for the four roundtables. As founder of 28 to Life, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing gun violence and tackling systemic inequality, Franks built trust between law enforcement and St. Louis citizens and strengthened the local economy through job training programs for underrepresented communities. Roundtables organized by 28 to Life convened law enforcement representatives, formerly incarcerated individuals, and young people from violence-stricken neighborhoods of St. Louis; Generation Progress’ intent was to apply a similar model to the Millennial Criminal Justice Roundtable tour.

This report is the product of those conversations. While Millennials in the various cities held unique perspectives on criminal justice reform, a number of common themes emerged. This report synthesizes those themes into a set of 10 Millennial-driven solutions to repairing the criminal justice system, targeted at local, state, and federal government leaders. Millennials are already fighting for a future and driving these issues forward. The only question is: will their leaders listen?

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