By Sukyi McMahon, Manager of the Roundtable on the Future of Justice Policy and Katharine Huffman, Executive Director, Square One Project
The idea of criminal justice reform is largely centered around changes to sentencing, policing, pre-trial and dozens of other spokes in the behemoth justice infrastructure. These goals are noble and necessary, but even the most comprehensive and aggressive versions barely scratch the surface of the problem.
The changes we need to make must also happen outside courtrooms, lock ups and police stations. The path to true justice and, yes, safer neighborhoods, is paved by a new social contract that puts a deeper emphasis on housing, health care, jobs and all the things that can undo the true cause of our broken justice status quo: systemic racism and chronic poverty.
This is what The Square One Project is all about — reimagining justice, not just tinkering around the edges. And for the fourth session of our landmark Roundtable series, which brings together some of the mightiest advocates and smartest experts in the nation, we are focusing squarely on America’s social contract.
Our conversation started on August 5th with a simple question: “As you reflect on the current moment in our country — the pandemic, economic inequality, the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the political dysfunction — what insights or lessons make you either optimistic or pessimistic about the future of our social contract?”
The perspectives of local and national justice and social leaders explored invisibility and erasure, optimism versus hope, and the potential for transformative change, and landed on a simple bottom line: that mass incarceration and all the injustices of the current system aren’t a new invention. They are simply the “modern” incarnation of systemic racism that began with slavery and continued through Jim Crow and segregation.
The beast just reinvents itself. Now we need to do something about it and make change.
Over the next six weeks, we will be hosting deep conversations every week about poverty, access to health care, food, education and housing, as well as the role of participation in our democracy as a means of achieving the goal of ending systemic racism once and for all. If we can make it to the endzone, we will have a better, more just and safer nation.