Both advocates and pundits alike have been reading the election tea leaves and predicting what the result of this contentious and unpredictable presidential election means for the future of our country.

Criminal justice reformers in particular are concerned that the election will stop the momentum that has been building to transform our system into one that promotes safety while ensuring equal justice. The Opportunity Agenda’s recent criminal justice public opinion analysis reveals Americans support criminal justice reform, and that remains clear after election night.

While it is tempting to be cynical and take the presidential election results as a referendum on the potential for criminal justice reform at the federal level, the success of criminal justice reform in part lies on our ability to continually remind the American people of what they already know:

The criminal justice system as it currently operates is outdated and unfair, and it threatens basic dignity, human rights, and equal justice. We need to continue to reinforce this narrative and remind our lawmakers that we expect our systems to work for us, not against us, if we want to sustain the momentum that has been building.

Criminal justice reform was a big winner at the state level, and it’s important to continue to remind our community of the urgent need for commonsense policies that reflect our national values.

Reform-minded prosecutors won on election night, and judges who were painted as “soft on crime” were re-elected, even when they faced well-funded opposition that relied on the out-of-touch “tough on crime” message. 

We shouldn’t allow our fear of the future discount the power of the continued support for reform. The reform movement has been decades in the making, and a singular, albeit unpredictable, personality should not take it off course.

We should demand that our government, at all levels, adopt smart policies that actually promote community safety and allow individuals who go through the criminal justice system to succeed once they go back into the community.

Many Americans have family members or friends who have struggled with addiction or who have made mistakes in the past. We want them to have a second chance and believe that they should be able to return to their communities prepared to be productive and law-abiding community members. 

Americans appreciate the importance of redemption and rehabilitation to build safer communities. We support giving second chances and believe that the primary goal of the criminal justice system should be rehabilitation.

While President-Elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points MORE and the Republican party have chosen to adopt the unhelpful, and dwindling in popularity “law and order” frame, the official Republican party platform does leave space for Democrats and Republicans to come together for commonsense and pragmatic reforms that enhance community safety, such as diversion programs and expansion of alternatives to incarceration. 

Even the President-Elect has discussed the importance of diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration.

Below are five suggestions for criminal justice reform that both Republicans and Democrats should get behind:

1) Increased Alternatives to Incarceration

Local governments, prosecutors’ offices, and federal and state legislatures should support pre-booking and non-arrest diversion programs and create performance review standards that reward diversion and provide funding to alternatives to incarceration.

2) Prohibitions on “Volume-Based” Performance Measures

Legislatures should prohibit performance metrics that reward criminal justice agents for increasing their volumes of prosecutions, tickets, summonses, arrests, probation violations, and other punitive civilian encounters; provide protection for whistleblowers to report unofficial “volume-based” performance metrics; and create strict penalties for law enforcement agencies with such unofficial policies.

3) Adoption of Restorative Justice in the Criminal Justice System 

Local governments and the judiciary should establish restorative justice programs that address community justice matters, including programs that address serious offenses. Restorative justice programs seek to repair the harm caused to victims and communities, and include practices such as family group conferences, mediation, community decision making, and mechanisms for restitution. Restorative justice is focused on making the community and victims whole. It’s an approach that ensures that those who are most affected by crime are actually heard and can participate in the resolution process in a meaningful way.

4) Funding Community Outreach

The DOJ should incentivize healthy relationships between the community and law enforcement agencies by prioritizing law enforcement agencies that have a substantive community outreach strategy detailed in funding applications to encourage positive community-police relationships.

5) Not Funding Bad Actors

The DOJ Civil Rights Division, Office of the Inspector General, and the DOJ Office of Community Oriented Policing Services should work together to ensure law enforcement agencies that are under investigation or have outstanding cases for statutory and constitutional violations are not awarded grants to hire additional police officers.

Thusi is the associate counsel for The Opportunity Agenda, a social justice communication lab. She has litigated cases on policing and structural inequality in the criminal justice system. Follow the Opportunity Agenda on Twitter @oppagenda


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