On Thursday, Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley introduced a “decarceration-focused” resolution aimed at reshaping the criminal justice system and dramatically reducing jail and prison populations.
“You cannot have a government for and by the people if it is not represented by all of the people,” Pressley said in a statement. “For far too long, those closest to the pain have not been closest to the power, resulting in a racist, xenophobic, rogue, and fundamentally flawed criminal legal system.”
Pressley’s “The People’s Justice Guarantee” resolution outlines the toll and trauma inflicted upon American families as a result of policies which have led to a crisis of mass incarceration. The resolution calls for a dramatic reduction in the number of people incarcerated and seeks to transform the criminal justice system by repealing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. It also looks to incentivize local and state governments to repeal three-strike laws and so-called “truth-in-sentencing” provisions, which reduce opportunities for incarcerated people to shorten their sentences through good behavior and other programs.
“The policy decisions that led to the incarceration crisis, as well as the unjust economic burden to sustain the system, caused inestimable, intergenerational, and disproportionate harm to communities,” Pressley’s resolution states. Pressley notes the disproportionate impact of the crisis on Black and brown people, who make up 31% of America’s population, but 56% of the incarcerated population.
The resolution also calls for abolition of the death penalty and advocates for capping prison sentences, demilitarizing police departments, and decriminalizing consensual sex work and low-level offenses often related to poverty and addiction. Instead, Pressley argues that the criminal justice system should focus on restorative justice, diversion programs, and helping returning citizens transition back into life after incarceration by restoring access to employment, public services, and voting. The resolution also seeks to end the use of forced labor from incarcerated people and instead provide them with vocational and educational opportunities.
The resolution also aims to lessen the cruelty and trauma inflicted by existing systems of incarceration, and brings attention to the disproportionate impact on women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and people with disabilities. Her proposal calls for allowing trans people to be housed according to their gender identity and would have prisons offer culturally responsive physical and mental health care, including gender affirming therapy and procedures.
Pressley’s resolution is the product of collaboration between grassroots organizations and advocates working on mass incarceration and immigration issues. It comes at a time of ongoing momentum for advocates seeking to reduce mass incarceration. Local candidates with platforms for reform have garnered national attention for their wins, and Democratic candidates seeking the presidential nomination have had to answer for their own records on criminal justice, while others have proposed policies to reverse the impact of their “tough on crime” past.
Pursuing criminal justice reform is a personal issue for Pressley, whose father was formerly incarcerated due to crimes he committed while battling substance abuse. “Our entire family was serving with him,” she said in March.
“Ultimately, the resolution calls to substantially reduce the number of people incarcerated and transform the purpose and experience of the criminal legal system,” Pressley’s office outlined in a press release. The Appeal’s Kira Lerner notes it would “redefine the national debate on criminal justice in the same ways the Green New Deal is intended to shape discussion of climate change.”