NewsOne’s The Black Ballot returned this week with another lively panel discussion about some of the most pressing issues affecting Black America that need to be addressed ahead of and beyond the upcoming election.
With criminal justice reform always hovering around the forefront of the Black agenda, it was only right to assemble an enviable group of experts to weigh in and offer solutions to problems both old and new in America’s flawed, and frankly racist, criminal justice system.
Joining Bruce C.T. Wright, NewsOne’s managing editor who moderated the conversation, were Yemi Adegbonmire, General Counsel at The Bail Project, a national nonprofit organization that pays bail for people in need, reuniting families and restoring the presumption of innocence; Jamila T. Davis, Founder of Women Over Incarcerated, an advocacy group created to shed light on injustice, provide resources to women in prison and female returning citizens, empowering them to successfully transition back into society and reunite with their families; and Ebony Underwood, Founder of We Got Us Now, a national nonprofit organization built by, led by and about children of incarcerated parents.
The panelists provided a wealth of knowledge based on their various and diverse experiences with the criminal justice system, including the recent decision by a grand jury to indict a fired police officer for shooting a wall and endangering the lives of people who didn’t die instead of for killing Breonna Taylor, who died in a hail of bullets fired by that same officer in March.
Davis, who is open about having been formerly incarcerated, spoke passionately about the lack of “accountability” and the need to fix that apparent law enforcement loophole. She said disparities in sentencing, especially along racial lines, is a real problem.
“We are able to blatantly see the racism and the systematic injustices in our system, said Davis, who was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for bank fraud. “And we need to create a system of accountability so that will change.”
When the topic turned to whether either of the presidential candidates has a criminal justice reform platform that can actually affect some real change, Adegbonmire said she thought Joe Biden‘s SAFE Justice Act was “a step in the right direction.” However, she also offered some cautionary advice for both presidential candidates.
“With any sort of legislation is that it’s important that we don’t end up replacing cash bail with a more harmful system,” she said. Adegbonmire mentioned The Bail Project’s After Cash Bail framework as a point of reference for what she described as reimagining pre-trial justice.
Underwood addressed the overall prison system needing a severe overhaul and spoke on a granular level about how it shamelessly exploits prisoners in order to achieve personal financial gain.
“The way that it’s designed to operate is so, so unjust in so many ways,” he said before listing off a number of examples including traveling extreme distances “just to see my dad,” who she said has been incarcerated for 32 years.
She said her organization, We Got Us Now, posted an online petition when the coronavirus pandemic hit listing “four demands” about what was needed for prisoners during this unprecedented public health crisis.
“We knew that there is no such thing as social distancing inside of a prison or a jail,” she said before questioning why widespread measures weren’t put in place to address the immediate health concerns. “Why are we not releasing these people who have been incarcerated for over 20, 30, 40 years?”
The above is just a small sample of the broad panel discussion about criminal justice reform. Watch the full conversation below.
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