Congresswoman Proposes a Complete Reconstruction of the Criminal Legal System

By Maxwell C. Myrhum

With the hopes of dropping the incarceration rate of Americans more than 80 percent, a Massachusetts Congresswomen has proposed sweeping changes to the United States criminal legal system.

In an interview with The Appeal, U.S. House Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts’ 7th District discussed the content of her resolution called “The People’s Justice Guarantee.” Rep. Pressley described the intent of this resolution as “unapologetically bold,” and a “progressive vision” for a more humane criminal legal system.

Rep. Pressley first elaborates on the time frame of her resolution.

The process of gradual integration is too slow, in the Congresswoman’s opinion, and the only solution to effectively create and implement her legislation is to undergo an “entire reset” of the criminal law system. The vision of a reset on this scale is in order to provide a new school of thought on the system, as well as prioritizing “people over profits and punishment.”

Rep. Pressley’s major focus in this reformation of the criminal legal system is to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals in the United States.

The ambitious goal of reducing the number of individuals in prison lies above 80 percent. This percentage was removed from earlier drafts of Rep. Pressley’s resolution, and, when questioned about it, Rep. Pressley responded that “there’s no reason [they] can’t push beyond 80 percent.”

The logic behind this, in her opinion, lies with ending the cycle of incarceration in the United States. Rep. Pressley elaborates that putting individuals in prison may not be the best option for everyone, and that a prison industrial complex deriving profit from the incarceration of individuals is not mending the problem.

Her solution – spend the money saved from would-be incarcerated individuals, and spend it on their rehabilitation and behavioral health.

Rep. Pressley pushes for such reallocation of funds spent on individuals in the criminal system because of her experience growing up with her father. She suggests that her father, a struggling addict who was in and out of jail, needed treatment for his substance abuse more than jail time. Rep. Pressley then describes how the introduction of treatment for her father allowed him to then go on and “make his contribution to the world.”

In addition to providing treatment to would-be incarcerated individuals, Rep. Pressley also suggests that the government decriminalize sex work, and lower the impact of certain drugs in the criminal legal system.

Both topics, as stressed by Rep. Pressley, are discussed and from “the feedback [they] were getting from those most impacted there,” the opinion is “the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power, driving, and informing the policymaking.” Also, with the legalization and regulation of such vices, Rep. Pressley hopes to create safer environments for individuals in both communities.

The resolution also faces the issue of pushback and non-enforcement from the states, as this would be a federal bill, but Rep. Pressley is hopeful that the federal government can somehow incentivize the use and spirit behind her resolution. Also, the greater use of “Progressive Prosecutors” would assist in this transition.

Rep. Pressley does admit that this resolution is “the boldest, most transformative vision that has been put forward,” but such is her way as she attempts to set a new pace in the world of the criminal legal system. This, in her and her staff’s opinion, is the future, and Rep. Pressley is going to present the resolution with or without the greater support of the Democratic Party because she believes she has the people on her side.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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  1. Tia Will

    “…describes how the introduction of treatment for her father allowed him to then go on and “make his contribution to the world.”

    As an MD, I am well aware of the cost-effectiveness of primary prevention. I fully agree with Rep. Pressley’s refocusing of our entire judicial system with its resources on prevention rather than punishment, and rehabilitation over revenge. Obviously there will always be individuals too dangerous to allow access to the general population. However, it is time to admit that nonviolent addicts, prostitutes, petty thieves, the homeless and the mentally il are not amongst them. It is also time to realize that if we value family stability, incarcerating those who are not dangerous is a very poor and costly way to achieve that.

    1. Bill Marshall

      I am well aware of the cost-effectiveness of primary prevention.

      Applies not just to MD’s, but engineers (particularly re: pavement management) and other fields as well… a lot of individual police departments have recognized it for 50 + years (Police Athletic Leagues, one ex.).

      Just common sense… witness the very old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”…

      But sometimes ‘common sense’ is not that common…

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