The Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions is the latest to take up the challenge of mass incarceration in the U.S., hosting a forum on the issue yesterday in Washington, D.C., with three other organizations, the Center for Community Change, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, and the Vera Institute of Justice. Vera President Nick Turner called the current interest in the issue of prisons and jails a “remarkable moment,” noting that presidential candidates ranging from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton already are discussing it. Turner highlighted the high incarceration rate among African Americans and the fact that the U.S. is by far the leader among world democracies in its incarceration rate.
Aspen invited several organizations that are dealing with various aspects of the incarceration problem, from the conservative group Right on Crime, to Take Action Minnesota, which is campaigning to “ban the box,” requiring or encouraging employers not to ask about job applicants’ criminal histories. One speaker, Danielle Sered of the Vera Institute’s Common Justice Program, urged more emphasis on getting crime victims involved in endorsing non-prison alternatives for offenders. Paul Wright of Prison Legal News and the Human Rights Defense Center argued that there is “not a one-size-fits-all solution” to reducing the nation’s high incarceration totals. He urged more attention to the “overcriminalization of American life” such as imprisoning sex offenders merely for failing to register. Wright suggested that reforms may take some time, noting that it has taken several decades to reach the level of 2.2 million behind bars. So far, he said, rhetoric about reform has outpaced actual policy changes.