• Jon B. Comstock

Let's tear down this (prison) wall!

MONDAY MATTERS – August 17| Let’s tear down this (prison) wall!

Did I get your attention? You likely recall that one of the most renowned statements of President Ronald Reagan was made by him to Mr. Gorbachev while visiting Berlin in 1987 when Reagan said, “Mr. President, tear down this wall!” While Reagan was very literal in his request, I am not. Nevertheless, as a Democrat candidate for State House District 96 my goal is every bit as ambitious.

Having been a licensed attorney since 1976 I want to help make you aware of how much our criminal justice system has changed – and not for the better. My considered judgment to you is that we as a state and nation criminalize too much conduct and our sentencing has had its own evolution – almost always more severe punishment for too many people, and for too long a period of time. It’s disproportionate to the conduct we want to prohibit. Our “war on drugs” has become a war on our grandchildren and children. Substance abuse is a health issue. Can we acknowledge that and repurpose law enforcement and justice system funding to provide substance recovery programs to all who need and want it? And the same for mental health care? Decriminalize possession generally and apply it retroactively for those currently incarcerated or on probation/parole. Our safety will not be compromised. Most persons who abuse drugs have had trauma in their lives.  Our current system routinely adds to that trauma.  It does not have to be that way.

Action Step: I don’t expect you to simply take my word for it. I would hope to motivate you to investigate the issue and to request of our Governor and Legislature to conduct an overall assessment of our justice system – with input from a range of experts and community members - which has become distorted into a force which is causing unnecessary trauma to our families and communities.

[Of course, our system does a lot of things right. We do need to prohibit certain conduct for our general welfare and we need to have accountability for those who undermine our safety.]

Let’s tear down this (prison) wall! A state-wide community assessment would seek to identify every entry point in our institutions that lead to prison. We should wonder why the United States is 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.  We as a people are not “worse actors” than the rest of the world.  What we have done is to create a complicated pipeline (criminal justice system) including what has been referred to as the “school to prison” pipeline, often kick-started with School Resource Officers (who are predominately police officers, where what our kids need are genuine mental health counselors and social workers).

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