Dear young people of America, I’ve got some tough news for you: unless you’re white, able-bodied, financially stable, and a whole host of other things, you might want to start preparing yourself for a time when you might find yourself in handcuffs or in front of a judge. This might sound like the start of a dystopian novel, but unfortunately, this is the reality for many young people living in America. Black youth are almost two times more likely to be arrested than white youth who commit the same crime, almost half of all state prisoners experience or have some form of a mental health illness, and the criminal justice system overwhelmingly incarcerates low-income individuals. These clear biases in our system stand in stark contrast to the America that we know as the land of the free and home of the brave.
On a quest to achieve meaningful change, Generation Progress visited four American cities to meet with young people, who are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and have been at the forefront of the movement for change.
In each city, we sat down to listen, to hear what problems young people are experiencing and how they think we can fix them. We came away with a set of recommendations, and today we’re releasing them in a new report, “Fighting for a Future: Millennials Tackle Criminal Justice Reform.” Guided directly by the words of young people at these roundtables, the report details 10 Millennial-driven and Millennial-targeted recommendations, both policy and community-oriented, for addressing the cracks in our criminal justice system. Here’s a quick preview of the 10 recommendations, divided into three main themes: race and privilege, community investment, and law enforcement reform and accountability. Check out our full report for more info on each.
Race and Privilege
1. Create safe spaces for all youth to discuss and explore racism and white privilege, and how these entities affect the day-to-day experiences and consequences of being a young person of color in America.
2. States, cities, and municipalities should dedicate more resources to education, especially in low-income school districts that house high populations of disenfranchised communities.
3. States, cities, and municipalities should invest in mentoring programs at all levels to provide youth with successful role models that come from similar backgrounds and lived experiences.
4. States, cities, and municipalities should remove barriers to re-entry and give those convicted of crimes a better chance at obtaining employment.
5. States, cities, and municipalities should re-allocate policing funds to community investment programs and initiatives that emphasize academic, economic, and social prosperity.
Law Enforcement Reform and Accountability
6. Police departments and the court system as a whole should reflect the community they represent. Police departments in particular should hire individuals with diverse backgrounds and encourage hiring within the jurisdictions officers will be patrolling.
7. Police departments should expand their training regimens to include: bias training, de-escalation training, diversity training, and mental health competency.
8. Police departments should provide residents with transparent processes for reporting and challenging police misconduct.
9. Police departments should provide safe spaces for officers to report wrongdoing observed of other officers.
10. Police departments should implement community policing initiatives that encourage police officers to build relationships with community members and residents.
From the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge to Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota to countless others, we know that change can’t wait. Now that you’ve read some of our recommendations, take action. Depending on the resources available to you and the recommendations that work best for your community, you can organize or attend town halls and roundtable discussions bringing together community members and key stakeholders. Fostering the kinds of open discussion necessary for instituting change, these events are opportunities to propose one or two of the recommendations listed in the report and are also great places to find allies. With social media, organizing gatherings of this sort has become increasingly easy—if you are planning on hosting a town hall or a roundtable discussion, feel free to reach out to Generation Progress to help you spread the word to our networks. Finally, pay attention to what’s happening in your local politics: changes in local politics often have the most dramatic impact on folks’ lives. Get in touch with your local representatives (state house and senate members, mayors, city council members, members of your local police department), form relationships, and start advocating for change.
Could one of these policies help you? Tell us how the criminal justice system affects your life.