Op-Ed: Woke Criminal Justice Reform Advocates Fail Inmates, Communities

Jack Brewer,  August 9, 2021

The way in which Americans talk and approach our nation’s checkered criminal justice system needs to change. For too long, the Left and the Right have argued about the “system” or “laws” rather than focusing on the people in that system and those subject to our laws.

If Americans are serious about having a robust criminal justice reform system that holds criminals accountable while successfully rehabilitating these individuals, our conversations surrounding the topic must address the root causes.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Black Americans comprise of nearly 40% of the nation’s prison population, while only constituting 13% of the nation’s population. This alarming statistic has often been weaponized by those on the Left to presume that the more radical measures surrounding police reform are necessary.

For example, one of the first executive orders the Biden administration signed upon assuming office was on “Reforming our Incarceration System to Eliminate the Use of Privately Operated Criminal Detention Facilities.” The Left’s take on policing seems to neglect any accountability mechanisms and instead of focusing on rehabilitation, prioritizes release more than anything else.

Besides the fact that private prisons often have better conditions than those run by the state and federal authorities — like in Florida where most state-run prisons don’t even have air conditioning — or that private prisons boast a track record of success with program-based recidivism reduction opportunities; the conversation arising from the Left is not based on reason or facts.

While leading policymakers on the Left often claim any amount of privatization in the criminal justice system is “immoral,” private hospitals — involved in the care of sick Americans — profit just as much off of care of the most vulnerable. Similar arguments are rarely made when an American decides to seek treatment at Mt. Sinai Hospital or the Mayo Clinic.

Additionally, some of the best addiction centers in the country are privately-run. In reality, “private prison companies” are actually government-contracted inmate rehabilitation centers that can often supplement deficiencies in the government.

For example, in Florida, spending on these government-contracted facilities actually cost the taxpayer less than 7% on average. Furthermore, these detention facilities house less than 10% of all inmates in the entire country, yet the Left focuses most of their attacks on these government contractors.

Conversely, the Right in this country often turns a blind eye toward rehabilitation and simply focuses on accountability factor. Look no further than the inaccurate characterizations and claims levied at the First Step Act (FSA) as it made its way through Congress.

With a crime surge in this country, tough-on-crime rhetoric is dangerous and could easily lead to backwards step in the face of so much progress.

In order to ensure a criminal justice reform system that keeps Americans safe, holds criminals accountable, and rehabilitates prospective inmates, we must take an evidence-based approach.

There are a wide variety of reasons why almost 30% of Americans have a criminal record and for Black Americans, the data doesn’t lie. Approximately 70% of Black Americans in the United States grow up in fatherless households and that is proven to make those kids 20 times more likely to have a run in with law enforcement.

In Black and brown neighborhoods around the country, there is less economic and educational opportunities, which are both major factors in the amount of crime in a given neighborhood.

These are the root causes of the criminality that should be addressed rather than over- or underpolicing Black and brown neighborhoods. Effective policies like the Opportunity Zones, school choice, and properly policed neighborhoods all help increase opportunity to historically disenfranchised communities ergo reducing crime.

However, there are still millions of Americans currently incarcerated, what should be done about them?

Those who have committed violent crimes should be held fully accountable with the full force of the law, however, the majority of Americans currently in prison have committed nonviolent crimes.

In fact, over 95% of all inmates will eventually be released, yet many do not possess the skills necessary to be productive members of society. It is here that the criminal justice system could serve as both a mechanism for accountability and rehabilitation.

While inmates are being held accountable for the crimes they have committed, there should be an emphasis on learning new skills, earning their education, or finding their spiritual grounding — obviously based on the type of inmate.

These types of opportunities are all proven to lead to one thing: a reduction in recidivism — the likelihood a person will commit a crime once released and therefore returned to prison.

Without genuine conversations about root causes nor meaningful policies designed to increase access to the American Dream for all Americans — even those who have made mistakes — we can’t hope to solve the major issues like those concerning our nation’s criminal justice system.

That’s what events like the Building the Kingdom through Business at Liberty University are designed to do; bring together our nation’s leaders and have important discussions about how best to move forward together as one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Jack Brewer, former NFL, America First Policy Institute’s Chairman of the Center for Opportunity Now, and former White House appointee on the Congressional Commission for the Social Status of Black Men and Boys.

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