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The need for criminal justice reform

Just days after a violent, white-nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe addressed a Brookings audience during an event on criminal justice reform. Governor McAuliffe said that the protests in his state were not “a debate about monuments” but about people who wanted to “maintain inequality in everything that they do.”

After recognizing Virginia’s troubled history on race relations, Governor McAuliffe highlighted the criminal justice system as plagued with racial inequality and announced his belief that Virginia should serve as an example to other states looking to take on criminal justice reform. Following his remarks, political activist DeRay Mckesson, Georgetown Law Professor Shon Hopwood, Teach for America’s Brittany Packnett, and Clint Smith, author of Counting Descent, discussed the need for criminal justice reform in America.

The U.S. criminal justice system “sends people to prison as a first response instead of a last resort”

Shon Hopwood argued that the need for criminal justice reform in the United States is vital. He takes issue with a system that “sends people to prison as a first response instead of a last resort.” He also highlighted the fact that the longer people stay in the prison system, the less likely they are to not commit new crimes when they do get out. Hopwood argues that this system hurts both criminals and taxpayers.

12,000 pregnant women are imprisoned every year

Brittany Packnett discussed the effect of mass incarceration on children, including both the children born to the 12,000 pregnant women who are imprisoned every year as well as kids who grow up in communities ravaged by mass incarceration. Packnett explained that children who are born into communities with high incarceration rates are raised to believe that they and the people living in their neighborhoods are “somehow more criminal than the folks they see on TV.” She added that the culture in many schools in these communities adds to this problem, stating that the “culture of education in this country is one of compliance not one of empowerment”

By 2030, one third of prisoners in the U.S. will be over 55 years old

Clint Smith discussed the role that prosecutors can play in criminal justice reform. He explained that “prosecutors have a wide range of discretionary power that is often used to put people away for much longer than they need to be.” He highlighted the fact that, by 2030, a third of prisoners in the U.S. will be over the age of 55 years, despite research that shows how unlikely it is that people of that age will commit another crime.

Watch the full event here:

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