Over the last year, we are proud to have engaged in a handful of criminal justice reform efforts in California, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and North Carolina. We assisted in these efforts because they presented a real opportunity for policy improvements, notably to safely reducing the number of people incarcerated, shrink the criminal justice system, and create opportunities for the tens of millions of people who have been incarcerated or who have criminal records. We also wanted to learn more about how the criminal justice system works and to engage with those already doing the work to reform it. Here’s what we took away.
Our criminal justice system is fundamentally broken. America’s criminal justice system locks too many people up for far too long, and locks too many people out of achieving their full potential. Our current criminal justice system does not deliver us more safety or more opportunity while doing substantial harm to communities and families, especially to communities of color, and incurring substantial cost at the local, state, and federal level. Rather, it undermines the promise of who we can and should be.
But there’s hope. We believe it’s important to identify bipartisan opportunities to find practical solutions to big problems. We’re excited that this is happening in states as different as California, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. In these places and elsewhere, broad bipartisan coalitions – conservatives and progressives, law enforcement professionals and formerly incarcerated individuals and their families, elected officials and crime survivors, business groups and faith leaders – are coming together to improve their criminal justice systems.
We can and want to help. At FWD.us, we combine grassroots organizing on both sides of the aisle, policy expertise, and political savvy to broaden and amplify stakeholder coalitions, to elevate the voices of people directly impacted, and to get the right information to the right policymakers in the right moments. We want to bring those same strategies to bear to advance our criminal justice goals, which include: 1) safely reducing the number of people incarcerated, 2) shrinking the criminal justice system, and 3) creating opportunities for the tens of millions of people who have been incarcerated or who have criminal records. We want to drive change grounded in the input of people who are directly impacted by the system, and in the data about what works.
We are excited to welcome Zoë Towns to lead our criminal justice reform work as we deepen our efforts to reform the criminal justice system. Her record of balancing policy expertise with political practicality to get impactful reforms through in red and blue states alike is exactly the kind of leadership we need to shape this new line of work. With her help, our plan is to chase big, audacious goals in a small number of states in coalition with policymakers and constituencies across the political spectrum.
The work ahead is as hard as it is necessary. In our short exploration into criminal justice reform, we have seen excellent policy reforms win the day and we have seen others stall. But we’re not afraid of a tough fight. Winning will mean bringing together legislative, electoral, research, cultural, and communications strategies. It will mean working alongside the highly sophisticated network of criminal justice reformers already hard at work.
Of course, we won’t let up even for a second on our urgent fight to pass a Dream Act and to achieve commonsense immigration reform. With the support and guidance of our founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and Priscilla Chan and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, FWD.us is continuing to grow into a multi-issue organization. At the same time, we are also redoubling our efforts around immigration reform, including increasing engagement with members on both sides of the aisle and organizing hundreds of business leaders, as well as helping to engage hundreds of thousands of supporters around the country, to send a clear message to Congress that the time for a Dream Act is now.
We will bring the same dedication and fervor to criminal justice reform as we have committed to immigration reform.