All of a sudden, discussions about criminal justice reform are everywhere. Big themes such as ban the box, sentencing reform, re-entry reintegration housing, justice reinvestment, and more, are hot topics.
But none of this is new. Advocates for reform have been pounding on this subject for years hardly scratching the surface of the American consciousness. Until now. I couldn't be happier. The incarceration situation in the US is appalling and major airtime for this subject is long overdue.
Still, all this is taking place at a very high altitude and we'll have to wait to see where the planes land and what kind of cargo they'll be carrying when they finally do. In the meantime, way more discussion is needed related to how exactly all this will be implemented.
I have to be honest, a big "here we go again" feeling is coming on. Programs, regulations, targets, mandates ... they're all on their way to a community near you. I have lots of concerns, here are a couple.
Digits get too much respect
We live in an ever increasing Digital Age. As economist Tyler Cowen puts it, "everything that can be rated, graded, and measured, will be." This means emphasis increasingly falls on data NOT the people represented by the data. And you thought No Child Left Behind was a challenge.
Front liners get too little
Think of where the rubber meets the road in any "program" - with workforce developers, case managers, and re-entry specialists. Like social workers and classroom teachers, they know what's going on and what's needed, yet far too often have no voice and get precious little respect.
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It's time for honest discussion by ALL stake holders about what it really takes to re-enter the Marketplace after having been out of the game and on the sidelines. True economic independence and self-sufficiency MUST be the ultimate goals with clear eyed compassion and alternatives for those that can't quite make the cut.
Oh I know, I costs money, a lot of money. That's why we'd better ask those on the front line how to do it.