The movement for decarceration can be a movement for healing America. Decarceration represents a good vehicle for addressing many of the broader issues plaguing our society– institutional racism, income inequality, over-criminalization and educational failure.

Decarceration as healing can build on the themes that Michelle Alexander has written about in The New Jim Crow, and organized into three levels of action:

1) Reducing the level of criminalization in U.S. society by reducing the number of people under criminal justice supervision, as well as reforming the policies and practices that bring people into the system.

2) Addressing the lingering impact of centuries of racist ideology on the American psyche and associated white privilege. An opportunity to repair some of the damage done to communities disproportionately targeted by incarceration– we also need to think about some form of ‘reparations.’

3) Finally moving to a sustainable model of full employment for all those people currently caught up in the criminal justice system who have been essentially excluded from the mainstream economy. We must provide work for the unemployed and underemployed; meet the desperate need for human services in many poor communities; and provide a new basis for satisfaction, self-esteem, and meaning to many whose lives have been devoid of such opportunities.

About the author

Deborah Small

Deborah Small is the Founder and Executive Director of “Break the Chains,” building support for drug policy reform in communities of color. Their targeted reforms focus on science, compassion, public health and human rights. Deborah has degrees in law and public policy from Harvard University.