The Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP will focus on many of the following issues at the 7th Annual Criminal Justice Seminar, which will be held Saturday at the Chattanooga-Choo-Choo.
Official stated, "According to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 2.4 million individuals are currently incarcerated in prisons across America. In addition, over 4.5 million are currently on probation or parole. Equally concerning, there are 100,00 juvenile detainees. Bureau statistics also detail that over thirty-nine percent of those persons currently incarcerated are African-Americans, and overall minorities compose sixty-percent of the prison population with a large majority of these being incarcerated for non-violent offenses.
As it currently stands, the United States has the highest mass incarceration rate in the world. That is because policies aimed at retributive justice believe “proportionate” punishment and penalties are the most effective ways to deter crime. This philosophy has led to more mass incarceration rates, harsher sentencing laws, a rampant rate of recidivism, and a life of extreme hardship for ex-offenders.
"The NAACP on a national and local level has advocated an approach that favors Restorative Justice that is 'Smart and Safe'.This strategy has proven to be effective in reducing recidivism, improving community safety, increasing victim healing and satisfaction, and lowering the costs of crime and criminal justice. Likewise, restorative justice urges offenders to take responsibility and accountability for their actions; includes and upholds the rights of victims of crime; and stresses that restitution and reparations are just as concerned with harmony in humanity and not merely satisfying the standards of the State. We should likewise reserve the full weight of the law for those individuals that commit crimes that are heinous and violent in nature.
"Crime reduction policies and initiatives should not have mass incarceration and punitive penalties as stand alone propositions that dictate the rule of law because whenever the scales of justice are tilted too far towards one of the legal extremities, it creates an unspeakable imbalance that thrusts society as a whole out of equilibrium and by virtue fails to address the root causes of crime and violence. As a consequence, imprisonment is rapidly losing its deterrent effect. To see a reduction in crime and violence, we must address criminal justice issues such as pre-trial diversion, public defender funding, inmates rights, restoration of rights to ex-offenders, and ending the School to Prison Pipeline through juvenile justice by choosing to educate not incarcerate. Recent reports detail minority students are funneled through the school to prison pipeline as early as three years of age.
"Another pressing criminal justice issue that the Branch has identified concerns the growing number of people that have lost driver's licenses and photo I.D's. Retributive justice polices have advocated an approach that can suspend or revoke licenses and id's because of child support, student loans, inability to pay fines, and other means that have created an inescapable network of hardship throughout our region. We must stop using the suspension and revoking of id's as a form of punishment or as a wedge issue as has been seen in voting.
"For these reasons, the seminar will focus on Balancing the Scales of Justice through: (I.) Rehabilitation; (II.) Reentry; (III.) Redemption. The primary concept of our prisons should not only be places of deterrence and detention, but places where the majority of persons will begin to be rehabilitated in preparation to reenter society. Secondly, a primary reason why reentry has failed and recidivism has spiked is because of the lack of opportunities upon reentering society, including gainful employment. To address this lack, many states and municipalities have adopted “Ban the Box” initiatives based on merit in the workplace. Redemption, because there is a belief that many of those persons who have paid their debts to society should be afforded the opportunity to redeem themselves.
"To help balance the scales of justice, our criminal justice policies will be enhanced by the inclusion of policies that focus on rehabilitation, reentry, and redemption, especially for non-violent offenders who compose the mass majority of individuals currently incarcerated or that are on parole and probation. We must do all that we can to help repair buried hopes, rebuild broken dreams, and remove the barriers that prevent individuals from attaining a productive and sustainable livelihood. As Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge noted, 'Equality before the law in a true democracy is a matter of right. It cannot be a matter of charity or of favor or of grace or of discretion.' What is right is to balance the scales of justice for all."