Here’s one of those simple yet profound statements that can have a deep impact on a discussion if it’s heeded.
When it comes to criminal justice reform, if we only talk about “expenses” and “costs” in terms of tax dollars, spending and saving, then we have really already missed the point and set ourselves up for failure. Like so many other issues, the starting point must be people. We have to start by talking about individuals, the real people affected by criminal justice policy and practice.
If we only talk about money we have missed the point in that the primary reason for talking about CJReform is not merely to “save money” but rather it’s to do the right thing, it’s to be ethical, to demonstrate compassion and wisdom in all we do. If we start the discussion by talking about money, we’ve already marginalized the very people that we have set out to help… those already marginalized. If we happen to save money in the process of bringing about substantive CJReform, well that’s wonderful, and a boon, but not the primary goal.
If we only talk about money we have also set ourselves up for failure because the CJReform issues are not monetary by nature. The issues that prompt us to desire CJReform are all related to injustices exacted upon dads, brothers, aunts, grandmas, husbands and daughters. Injustices, regardless of cost and expense, must be avoided. To put this yet another way: Prohibiting and reducing injustice is our responsibility no matter what the monetary expense.
This is why the stories of the wrongfully convicted are so important. When we see the human toll of criminal justice error, when we look into the eyes of those wrongfully convicted, we have an opportunity to be inspired to action on their behalf. The stories of exonerees remind us that real people, real families, real communities are shattered and sometimes utterly destroyed at the hands of State Injustice.
Let’s think first of the people involved. Let’s remember first our own humanity, for we too have a body, and put ourselves in the place of the accused. Let’s demonstrate some humility, let’s live our humanity, let’s reflect that divine image, let’s love one another through our actions.