February 7, 2017

What does the future hold for justice reform?

Predicting how the new administration under President Trump will view criminal and juvenile justice reform is risky, but concerns about a return to a “law and order” perspective are legitimate.  Based on comments President Trump made during the campaign, his continued refusal to accept the proven wrongful conviction of the Central Park Five, and noting who is at the table with him may signal a move away from what has been a growing bipartisan consensus that the “tough on crime” policies that have led to mass incarceration and outrageous racial disparities was a flawed, inefficient, and ineffective approach.  As state and local governments have moved towards school discipline reform, alternatives to incarceration, and restorative justice, juvenile and adult arrest rates have continued to fall.

Yet, there is evidence that President Trump leans toward the failed policies of yesteryear.  President Trump campaigned on “law and order,” in different ways, even in his inauguration speech in proclaiming that we need to stop the “American carnage” and that “crime and the gangs and the drugs have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”  To be sure, there are some troubling signs in some cases, but the rhetoric also failed to take note of decreasing crime rates every single year since 1994.

For justice reform advocates, waiting to see what might happen could be too late. 

So, the Center for Law and Social Policy, CLASP, released a report subtitled, “Realizing Youth Justice: Guiding Principles for Advocates in the Trump Era.”  In it they argue that now is the time for an Investment Framework to double down on criminal and juvenile justice reform and commit to four key principles: (1) Equity – to ensure we do not reinforce or expand existing disparities; (2) Recognizing youth as assets and make sure their voices are heard –   to stop the dehumanization of all youth but particularly youth of color (recall how quickly the term “superpredators” became the code word for minority delinquents back in the late 1980’s and into the 90’s; (3) Ensure that solutions are data-informed and community-driven; and (4) Ensure approaches are culturally relevant and developmentally appropriate – to ensure real partnership with youth that are underrepresented in policy decisions and overrepresented in negative criminal outcomes.

For advocates and juvenile justice professionals who know what works with youth and how strengthening families and communities – not short-sighted get tough approaches – is the key to both public safety and economic success, this is the right time to celebrate successes and make our voices heard when the “tough on crime” advocates grab the spotlight.