Black policymakers currently face the dilemma of either allowing the perpetuation of the damaging effects of prison expansion and mass incarceration or antagonizing a well-organized pro-law enforcement lobby.
Opponents of criminal justice reform and those that profit from existing monetized justice systems are incredibly well-funded and politically active. They consistently try to drive a wedge between policymakers, citizens, and those most impacted by a failing criminal justice system. This wedge is often cloaked in “get tough on crime” messaging that implores constituents to call for more police presence, calls on lawmakers to extend harsher sentencing, increases fines and penalties, and expands monitoring of citizens accused or convicted of a crime, all with little concern for the lasting long-term effects these policies have on the larger community.
Despite the mountain of evidence that has emerged in recent years demonstrating the ineffectiveness of prison expansion and mass incarceration, as well as the uneven impact of these policies on communities of color, these calls persist. Meanwhile, the people who are most directly impacted by the lack of reform are so preoccupied with day-to-day challenges that they rarely have time to engage around potential legislative changes until it is too late.
In order to achieve meaningful reform in response to prison expansion and mass incarceration rates that resemble Jim Crow-era segregation and social control, a well-equipped and well-financed opposition must be organized.