Criminal Justice Reformers Focus on States, Cities

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With President Trump in the White House and Jeff Sessions leading the Justice Department, the focus on criminal justice reform has moved away from Washington, BuzzFeed News reports. “Over 90% of our prisoners are in the state prisons and local jails,” said singer John Legend. “Changing state laws and changing practices on the local level is going to be where most of the change is anyhow.” “Let’s face it, of the 2.2 million people who are incarcerated, only a couple hundred thousand are in the federal system,” said Valerie Jarrett, longtime adviser to former President Obama. Glenn Martin of JustLeadership USA, which wants to cut the U.S. prison population in half by 2030, said, “I think what you do during the Trump administration is that you double down locally.”

Martin spent six years in prison more than two decades ago and is now helping to lead the fight to close New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex. “I never had a lot of hope that Congress was the answer to this,” he said. “In fact, it was a bipartisan coalition that got us here; forgive me if I’m not inspired by a comeback coalition trying to get us out of this mess.” While some remain hopeful about continuing to build federal momentum for sentencing law changes, most federal efforts will be aimed at stopping or minimizing Trump and Sessions’ proposals, not advancing reform goals. “Is that a very important bully pulpit that we’ll miss? Of course it is, but you have to kind of play with the cards that you’re dealt,” said Jarrett, who pointed to the philanthropic community, mayors and governors. “And if the fact of the matter is that we’re not going to get the support that we want from Washington, then let’s go and work with a coalition of the willing.”

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