VARGAS-EDMOND: MY HUSBAND, AT THE AGE OF 19, WAS FACING 150 YEARS TO DOUBLE LIFE FOR AN OFFENSE IN WHICH NO ONE WAS HURT. HE ENDED UP BEING SENTENCED TO 10 YEARS AND PLED OUT TO THINGS THAT HE DID NOT DO BECAUSE OF THE WAYS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEYS HAVE THE ABILITY TO STACK CHARGES.

This past July, Taina Vargas-Edmond, co-founder of the Los Angeles-based prisoner rights group, Initiate Justice, addressed a congressional field hearing on criminal justice reform hosted by Representative Karen Bass (D. CA).  Vargas-Edmond shared her personal experience of California’s punitive tough-on-crime laws and summarized the hope that the state’s reform measures represent to her and thousands of Californians with incarcerated loved ones.

VARGAS-EDMOND: BECAUSE OF PROPOSITION 57, HE WAS ABLE TO EARN ALMOST TWO YEARS OFF OF HIS SENTENCE AND THAT’S THE REASON THAT HE’S HERE NOW. BUT THE SEVEN YEARS, THE SEVEN YEARS THAT HE SPENT INCARCERATED COST ME ABOUT $40,000 OUT OF MY POCKET TO BE ABLE TO MAKE VISITS, TO BE ABLE TO PUT MONEY ON THE PHONE SO I COULD TALK TO HIM, TO SEND PACKAGES… AND THAT DOESN’T EVEN INCLUDE THE COST THAT WE SPENT ON AN ATTORNEY TRYING TO FIGHT HIS CASE. THERE ARE TOO MANY STORIES THAT ARE EXACTLY LIKE MINE, WHERE WOMEN OF COLOR IN PARTICULAR BEAR THE FINANCIAL BURDEN AND THE EMOTIONAL BURDEN AND THE SOCIAL STIGMA OF HAVING INCARCERATED LOVED ONES. SO I THINK IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION THE HUMAN COSTS, NOT ONLY ON THE PEOPLE WHO ARE INCARCERATED, BUT THEIR FAMILY MEMBERS AND THEIR COMMUNITIES, WHO BEAR THE BRUNT OF THAT BURDEN AS WELL.

Vargas-Edmond was part of an expert witness panel, gathered by Rep. Bass to examine California’s recent record of criminal justice reform and to identify what lessons might be drawn to effect similar reforms nationally. It was an enthusiastic assembly, peppered with spontaneous applause, cheers and shout-backs. As congressional hearings go, it was an outlier: emotive, purposeful, and profoundly personal.


In the bustling West Adams community center, the mood is celebratory. Today’s hearing is a reunion of sorts, a gathering of old allies. When Rep. Bass recognizes the contributions many in the crowd had made to the long, hard struggle for criminal justice reform, she’s answered with joyous whoops. 

BASS: I KNOW MANY OF YOU IN THIS ROOM HAVE BEEN INVOLVED FOR THE LAST THREE DECADES IN MAKING THESE REFORMS HAPPEN. SO ALTHOUGH MANY OF THEM TOOK PLACE BY BALLOT INITIATIVES, IT WAS THE PEOPLE IN THIS ROOM AND OTHERS THROUGHOUT OUR STATE WHO LED A MOVEMENT THROUGH MANY GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATIONS THAT CREATED THE PUBLIC WILL AND IDENTIFIED THE RESOURCES FOR THE BALLOT INITIATIVES TO TAKE PLACE TO BEGIN WITH.

One part staid Congressional hearing, one part emotionally-charged evangelical service — it was more than apparent that Rep. Bass and her cohort were definitely preaching to the choir.

Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, Karen Bass is currently serving in her fifth term in Congress. She was previously speaker of the California Assembly, the first African American woman to hold that position. 

Her 37th Congressional District comprises a roughly rectangular swath of western Los Angeles, stretching from the 110 west to Lincoln Boulevard, and from Wilshire Boulevard south to Firestone Avenue. It encompasses some seventeen neighborhoods, including South Los Angeles, Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills, Miracle Mile, Pico-Robertson, Century City, Beverlywood, Cheviot Hills, West Los Angeles, and Mar Vista, as well as Culver City, View Park and Ladera Heights. With over 700,000 residents (a vibrant mix of 39% Latino, 25% Black, 25% White, and 8% Asian), Bass’ 37th is a microcosm of the city’s ethnic and economic diversity.

Bass kicked off the proceedings by introducing the members of Congress who were seated beside her on the dais: Hank Johnson (D-GA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Dwight Evans (D-PA) and Steven Horsford (D-NY). Bass observed that criminal justice reform has been a unique example of bipartisan cooperation during these harshly polarized political times; that said, she also noted ruefully that none of her GOP colleagues were able to make the trip to LA.

She then recited a sort of State-of-the-State review of the grim statistics of mass incarceration in California.

BASS: CALIFORNIA WAS LONG KNOWN FOR ITS TOUGH ON CRIME POLICIES AND IT ONCE LED THE NATION IN THE RUSH FOR MASS INCARCERATION. BETWEEN 1975 AND 2006, CALIFORNIA’S PRISON POPULATION INCREASED EIGHTFOLD. FROM 1980 TO 2006, CALIFORNIA’S JAIL POPULATION MORE THAN TRIPLED. BY THE 2000S, CALIFORNIA’S PRISONS, WHICH WERE DESIGNED TO HOUSE A POPULATION OF ABOUT 80,000, HELD OVER DOUBLE THEIR CAPACITY. INCARCERATED PEOPLE SLEPT IN GYMS, HALLWAYS, AND DAY ROOMS. MENTALLY ILL PRISONERS WERE JAMMED INTO TINY HOLDING CELLS. INMATE SUICIDE RATES WERE 80% HIGHER THAN IN THE REST OF THE NATION’S PRISONS. AND THIS RAPID INCARCERATION DEVASTATED COMMUNITIES OF COLOR. BLACK PERSONS REPRESENTED 6% OF THE POPULATION, BUT 27% OF THE INCARCERATED POPULATION. IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT UNFORTUNATELY, THIS DATA HAS NOT CHANGED. AT THE END OF 2016, 29% OF MALE PRISONERS IN STATE PRISONS WERE BLACK, WHILE ONLY 6% OF THE STATE’S MALE RESIDENTS WERE BLACK. 

CALIFORNIA, HOWEVER, HAS MADE STRIDES. AFTER THE 2011 SUPREME COURT CASE MANDATING THE REDUCTION OF THIS UNCONSTITUTIONAL INCARCERATION, NUMEROUS BALLOT INITIATIVES REFLECTED THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE TO SCALE BACK MASS INCARCERATION. WHAT HAS CALIFORNIA DONE RIGHT? THE WITNESSES IN OUR FIRST PANEL WILL DESCRIBE BALLOT INITIATIVES THAT HAVE BEGUN TO DRASTICALLY REDUCE THE STATE’S INCARCERATED POPULATION. THESE REFORMS HAVE BEEN NARROWLY TARGETED, BUT ALSO HAVE BROADLY APPLIED TO MORE TYPES OF OFFENSES THAN SIMPLY LOW LEVEL DRUG POSSESSION. THE REFORMS INCLUDE NARROWING THE THREE STRIKES LAW; THE REVISION OF FELONY MURDER LAWS; THE REDUCTION OF PENALTIES FOR DRUG AND THEFT OFFENSES; THE EXPANSION OF PAROLE AND EARNED TIME CREDITS FOR EARLY RELEASE FROM PRISON; AND THE BROAD REVISIONS OF JUVENILE LAWS AND MANY MORE.

The day’s first expert witness panel included Michael Romano, Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School and Director of the Three Strikes Project and Justice Advocacy Project; Vargas-Edmond of Initiate Justice; and Charis E. Kubrin, Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at UC, Irvine.  

Before we hear excerpts of their testimony, let’s briefly examine the content of the three ballot initiatives under discussion. They are Propositions 36, 47 and 57. Taken together, these three ballot initiatives represent a paradigm shift in the ongoing reform of California’s criminal justice system — a step towards dismantling California’s punitive “tough on crime” apparatus. 


Proposition 36 (https://www.courts.ca.gov/20142.htm), which modified the harsher components of the 1994 Three Strikes law, passed in 2012. At the time, California was the only state in which any felony offense could trigger a third strike. Reformers argued that this contributed significantly to overcrowding in California’s state prisons. Proposition 36 required that third strikes be reserved for violent or serious offenses. Those found guilty of non-violent and non-serious felonies would receive shorter terms in state prison. Proposition 36 also allowed non-violent, third strike inmates to petition the court for resentencing.

Proposition 47 (https://www.courts.ca.gov/prop47.htm) was also a response to the prison overcrowding crisis. Passed in 2014, Prop. 47 reduced certain non-violent, non-serious felonies to misdemeanors. This relieved pressure on state prisons for beds and resources, and redirected funding to local jurisdictions to pay for treatment and diversion programs.

Most recently, 2016’s Proposition 57 (also known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/prop57-Parole-and-Credits-Memo.pdf) expanded parole eligibility and revised credit earning in the state prison system, encouraging participation in education and rehabilitative programming and supporting successful reentry. Prop. 57 is also notable for repealing parts of Prop. 21, passed in 2000, specifically the ability of prosecutors to file charges against youth under 18 years old in adult criminal court through a process known as “direct file.”


Sitting at a long table facing the Congressmembers, Stanford Law’s Professor Romano was the first to address the impact and results of the three propositions, including a newly reduced prison population and an encouraging drop in rates of violent crime.  

ROMANO: AS THE CHAIR MENTIONED, I WAS INTIMATELY INVOLVED WITH THREE RECENT BALLOT MEASURES ENACTED HERE IN CALIFORNIA, PROPOSITIONS 36, 47 AND 57 PLUS OTHER REFORMS WHICH HAVE SUSTAINED A REMARKABLE AND ONGOING MOVEMENT TO REDUCE CALIFORNIA’S PRISON POPULATION. I’D LIKE TO MAKE THREE MAIN POINTS WITH MY TESTIMONY TODAY.

FIRST, CALIFORNIA HAS SUCCESSFULLY REDUCED OUR PRISON POPULATION BY 26% OR 45,000 INMATES AND REDUCED CRIME AT THE SAME TIME. SINCE THE PEAK OF CALIFORNIA’S PRISON BOOM IN 2006, VIOLENT CRIMES IN CALIFORNIA ARE DOWN 17% AND PROPERTY CRIMES ARE DOWN 27%. YOU CAN REDUCE PRISON SENTENCES AND CRIME RATES AT THE SAME TIME. IT IS A FACT.

SECOND, DESPITE OUR SUCCESSES, LEGISLATIVE ACTION SEEMS TO LAG BEHIND PUBLIC OPINION. I’D LIKE TO SINGLE OUT PROPOSITION 36, THE REFORM TO CALIFORNIA’S THREE STRIKES LAW, FOR A MINUTE BECAUSE IT WAS THE FIRST LAW IN CALIFORNIA TO ROLL BACK PRISON SENTENCES BECAUSE IT WAS ENACTED BY VOTERS AND BECAUSE IT IS THE REFORM WITH WHICH I AM MOST FAMILIAR. WE FIRST WENT TO SACRAMENTO AND WE COULDN’T GET OUT OF COMMITTEE. OUR ALLIES, DEMOCRATS, LIBERAL ACTIVISTS, SAID IT COULDN’T BE DONE. THEY WORRIED ABOUT WILLY HORTON. OUR OPPONENTS ASKED, WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO HAPPEN BY REDUCING THREE-STRIKE SENTENCES? EVEN FOR MINOR CRIMES LIKE SHOPLIFTING AND DRUG POSSESSION? WE ALREADY KNOW, THEY SAID. THEY WILL COMMIT NEW CRIMES AND KILL INNOCENT PEOPLE. THAT’S A DIRECT QUOTE. THEY WERE WRONG. PROPOSITION 36 PASSED WITH 70% OF THE STATEWIDE VOTE AND A MAJORITY IN EVERY COUNTY IN THE STATE. OVER 2000 HOPELESS RECIDIVISTS AND CAREER CRIMINALS HAVE BEEN FREED UNDER PROPOSITION 36 AND THEIR RECIDIVISM RATE IS ALMOST TWO TIMES BETTER THAN THE STATE AVERAGE. VOTERS WANT CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM. IN THREE STRAIGHT ELECTIONS, WE HAVE OVERWHELMINGLY PASSED INITIATIVES THAT REDUCED CRIMINAL PUNISHMENTS FOR ALMOST ALL CRIMES. THE LEAST POPULAR OF THESE REFORMS, PROPOSITION 47, PASSED BY A TWO-TO-ONE MARGIN. NEW POLLING SHOWS THAT LIKELY 2020 VOTERS, AND EVEN CRIME SURVIVORS IN CALIFORNIA, ALL SUPPORT CONTINUED REFORM. AND AS YOU SURELY KNOW, CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM IS NOW A BIPARTISAN ISSUE.

I SUBMIT THAT THE POLITICS OF TOUGH ON CRIME IS OVER AND WE MUST TAKE THE OPPORTUNITY TO REEXAMINE AND REFORM LAWS THAT WE KNOW DON’T HELP PUBLIC SAFETY, BUT INSTEAD INFLICT MISERY, DESTROY FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES AND COST BILLIONS AND BILLIONS OF DOLLARS. FINALLY, SO MUCH WORK REMAINS TO BE DONE. FAR TOO MANY PEOPLE STILL REMAIN BEHIND BARS. I KNOW THEM PERSONALLY BECAUSE I’M THEIR LAWYER.

Embracing the statistical and the personal — Professor Romano set the tone of the expert testimonies to follow. Speaking immediately after him, Initiate Justice’s Taina Vargas-Edmond spoke movingly about Proposition 57 and its impact on her own life.

VARGAS-EDMOND: PROPOSITION 57 DID THREE THINGS. ONE, IT MADE IT MUCH MORE DIFFICULT FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE CONVICTED AS YOUTHS TO BE SENTENCED AS ADULTS. TWO, IT CREATED A PAROLE OPPORTUNITY FOR PEOPLE SENTENCED TO CERTAIN NONVIOLENT OFFENSES. AND THREE, AND MOST SIGNIFICANTLY, IT CREATED A CREDIT EARNING PROGRAM FOR 96% OF PEOPLE CURRENTLY INCARCERATED IN THE CALIFORNIA STATE PRISON SYSTEM. WHAT’S IMPORTANT ABOUT THE CREDIT EARNING PORTION OF PROPOSITION 57 IS THAT IT REPRESENTED A PARADIGM SHIFT IN CALIFORNIA, WHERE WE RECOGNIZED THAT PEOPLE WHO ARE CURRENTLY INCARCERATED: ONE, NEED INCENTIVES TO BE ABLE TO INVEST IN THEIR OWN REHABILITATION AND TRANSFORMATION; AND TWO, BY OFFERING FOLKS THESE INCENTIVES AND THESE TOOLS, WE’RE ACTUALLY INCREASING THEIR LIKELIHOOD OF SUCCESS WHILE THEY RE-ENTER SOCIETY.

Vargas-Edmond also addressed the far-ranging effects of another piece of reform legislation: 2018’s SB 1437 or the felony murder rule. She explained that before 1437’s passage, accessories to a felony which resulted in murder could be charged with that murder even if they were ignorant of the homicide, did not wield a weapon, or in some cases, were physically absent from the murder scene.  

VARGAS-EDMOND: IN CALIFORNIA, YOU CAN BE SENTENCED TO LIFE FOR MURDER WHEN YOU DID NOT COMMIT THE MURDER, IF YOU WERE COMMITTING ANOTHER FELONY AT THE TIME. SO IF YOU WERE, FOR EXAMPLE, A GETAWAY DRIVER HAVING NO IDEA THAT A MURDER WAS BEING COMMITTED, YOU COULD STILL GO TO PRISON FOR MURDER, THE SAME AS THE PERSON WHO ACTUALLY COMMITTED THE HOMICIDAL ACT. THIS WAS CHANGED LAST YEAR AND NOW WE HAVE DOZENS OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN RELEASED THROUGHOUT THE STATE SO FAR AND HUNDREDS MORE WHO ARE AWAITING HEARING, WHO ARE GOING TO BE RESENTENCED FOR THEIR ACTUAL PARTICIPATION IN THE CRIME AND HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO COME HOME.

Vargas-Edmond described the burden, both financial and emotional, borne predominantly by women of color as they deal with incarcerated loved ones — in this instance, her husband, Richard Edmond-Vargas.

VARGAS-EDMOND: THE SEVEN YEARS THAT HE SPENT INCARCERATED COST ME ABOUT $40,000 OUT OF MY POCKET TO BE ABLE TO MAKE VISITS, TO BE ABLE TO PUT MONEY ON THE PHONE SO I COULD TALK TO HIM, TO SEND PACKAGES… AND THAT DOESN’T EVEN INCLUDE THE COST THAT WE SPENT ON AN ATTORNEY TRYING TO FIGHT HIS CASE. THERE ARE TOO MANY STORIES THAT ARE EXACTLY LIKE MINE, WHERE WOMEN OF COLOR IN PARTICULAR BEAR THE FINANCIAL BURDEN AND THE EMOTIONAL BURDEN AND THE SOCIAL STIGMA OF HAVING INCARCERATED LOVED ONES. SO I THINK IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION THE HUMAN COST ON NOT ONLY THE PEOPLE WHO ARE INCARCERATED, BUT THEIR FAMILY MEMBERS AND THEIR COMMUNITIES WHO BEAR THE BRUNT OF THAT BURDEN AS WELL.

Vargas-Edmond proposed a multi-point agenda for the politicians gathered before her.

VARGAS-EDMOND: ONE: WE MUST CLOSE PRISONS. DESPITE OUR DECREASING PRISON POPULATION, THE CALIFORNIA CORRECTIONS BUDGET HAS CONTINUED TO SOAR EVERY SINGLE YEAR. THIS IS IN PART DUE TO INCREASING MEDICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH COSTS FOR INCARCERATED PEOPLE, BUT MOSTLY DUE TO THE FACT THAT PRISONS HAVE CONTINUED TO BE IN OPERATION DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE POPULATION IS GOING DOWN.  FACILITIES MUST CLOSE FOR US TO ELIMINATE THESE OPERATING COSTS. 

TWO: WE MUST IMPLEMENT MORE INCLUSIVE POLICY REFORMS. MANY PROPOSED POLICY REFORMS TEND TO ADDRESS THE POLITICAL LOW HANGING FRUIT, THE FOLKS WHO ARE CONVICTED OF NONVIOLENT, NON-SERIOUS, NON-SEX OFFENSES. THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS, ESPECIALLY IN THE STATE PRISON SYSTEM, IS THAT MOST PEOPLE ARE SERVING TIME FOR VIOLENT OFFENSES AND WE NEED TO RECONCILE WITH THAT AND CONSIDER HOW WE ARE GOING TO ADDRESS THESE MORE SERIOUS OFFENSES AND THINK ABOUT SOLUTIONS AND NOT JUST PUNISHMENT. IN THAT VEIN… 

THREE: WE MUST EXPAND RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PRACTICES. OUR EXISTING CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IS PUNITIVE IN NATURE, MEANING THAT WE PUNISH PEOPLE RATHER THAN LOOKING AT ROOT CAUSES, RATHER THAN FOCUSING ON HEALING AND TRANSFORMATION OF THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS OF THE OFFENSE. 

FOUR: WE MUST END SENTENCING ENHANCEMENTS INCLUDING THE THREE STRIKES LAW IN CALIFORNIA. SENTENCING ENHANCEMENTS ARE MEANT TO ACT AS A DETERRENT FOR CRIME, BUT THERE IS NO EVIDENCE TO SUGGEST THAT SENTENCING ENHANCEMENTS HAVE BEEN EFFECTIVE. OUR SENTENCING ENHANCEMENT LAWS ARE SO COMPLICATED THAT THE AVERAGE PERSON IS NOT FAMILIAR WITH THEM. SO NO ONE THINKS, OKAY, LET ME NOT COMMIT THIS OFFENSE BECAUSE OF PENAL CODE SECTION BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. AND IN CALIFORNIA, WE ACTUALLY HAVE MORE SENTENCING ENHANCEMENTS THAN WE HAVE PENAL CODE VIOLATIONS ON THE BOOKS. 

AND FIVE: WE MUST ENSURE THAT PEOPLE DIRECTLY IMPACTED BY INCARCERATION ARE LEADING THESE POLICY REFORMS.  PEOPLE DIRECTLY IMPACTED BY INCARCERATION ARE LEADERS IN OUR OWN EXPERIENCES. WE ARE THE ONES WHO UNDERSTAND WHAT WE NEED TO MAKE OUR COMMUNITY SAFE BECAUSE WE KNOW WHAT WE DIDN’T HAVE TO END UP IN PRISON IN THE FIRST PLACE. AND THE FIRST STEP IN DOING THIS IS THAT WE MUST RESTORE VOTING RIGHTS TO ALL PEOPLE IMPACTED BY INCARCERATION.

Waiting for the applause to die down, Vargas-Edmond wrapped up her testimony with a stirring call to arms.

VARGAS-EDMOND: I’LL CONCLUDE WITH THIS. AS A REPRESENTATIVE OF AN ORGANIZATION LED BY PEOPLE DIRECTLY IMPACTED BY INCARCERATION WHO FIGHT FOR POLICY CHANGE, I HAVE WITNESSED MANY VICTORIES IN DECARCERATION POLICY IN RECENT YEARS. CALIFORNIA IS IN THE MIDST OF A PARADIGM SHIFT WHERE OUR LEADERS ARE FINALLY STARTING TO REALIZE THAT THE PUNITIVE JUSTICE SYSTEM AND BEING TOUGH ON CRIME IS NOT A CURE FOR OUR SOCIAL ILLS. AS WE MOVE FORWARD TOWARD ENDING MASS INCARCERATION, WE MUST EXPAND ON EXISTING REFORMS AND FIGHT FOR BOLD AND COURAGEOUS CHANGE THAT IS ROOTED IN SOLUTIONS RATHER THAN JUST PUNISHMENT. ENDING MASS INCARCERATION WILL REQUIRE THAT WE ADDRESS THESE ROOT CAUSES OF HARM, SHIFT OUR CULTURE TO ONE THAT EMBRACES TRANSFORMATION AND FOLLOW THE LEAD OF THOSE DIRECTLY IMPACTED BY THE CRIMINAL LEGAL SYSTEM.

UC Irvine Professor Charis E. Kubrin was the last of the expert witnesses to speak. Dr. Kubrin summarized her crucial statistical analyses of the impact of realignment and Proposition 47 on crime rates in California.  (“Realignment” refers to the transfer of “triple nons” -non-serious, non-sex, non-violent offenders- from state prisons to county jails.) Kubrin and her associates concluded that realignment and Prop. 47 had “absolutely no impact whatsoever” on the crimes of homicide, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, and burglary. There was, however, a “slight uptick” in larceny and motor vehicle theft.  

She ended her statement with a brief agenda for continuing debate.

KUBRIN: FIRST, WE CAN DOWNSIZE OUR PRISONS WITHOUT HARMING PUBLIC SAFETY. WE ABSOLUTELY CAN. AND SECONDLY, THAT AS OTHER STATES THROUGHOUT THE NATION DEBATE PRISON DOWNSIZING AND CONSIDER WHAT REFORMS MAY WORK IN THEIR STATES THAT CALIFORNIA HAS TO BE FRONT AND CENTER OF THAT DISCUSSION. THANK YOU. 

As she concluded, the room burst into noisy applause. Later, Representative G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) would remind the room of the official nature of the proceedings that day. Not so much to dampen enthusiasm as to restate the larger implications of the day’s discussion.

Yet it was the ways in which the Bass hearing strayed from the official to the informal, the statistical to the deeply personal, that made it moving and essential. A crucial building block in the ongoing discussion surrounding criminal justice reform, the Bass Hearing encompassed both pride in recent accomplishments and necessary spurs to further action.

We leave it to Professor Charis Kubrin to summarize the immediate prospects of the criminal justice reform movement and offer up a rallying cry.

KUBRIN: CAN I JUST ADD, AS A SOCIOLOGIST, SOMEONE TRAINED IN SOCIOLOGY, MASS INCARCERATION REPRODUCES INEQUALITY IN OUR SOCIETY. IT REPRODUCES AND DEEPENS INEQUALITY IN ALL ASPECTS. WHETHER WE’RE TALKING ABOUT EDUCATION, FAMILY, THE LABOR MARKET… PRISON CAN BE A STRATIFYING INSTITUTION. AND SO IF WE WANT TO FIGHT BACK AGAINST INEQUALITY, RACIAL INEQUALITY IN PARTICULAR, WE CANNOT HAVE THE KINDS OF INCARCERATION RATES THAT WE HAVE HAD IN THIS COUNTRY.

In the interest of time, we’ve edited out the resulting roars of approval.


In a follow-up feature, CRIME STORY will examine the second half of the Bass Hearing, which examined re-entry and transition programs for the recently excarcerated and their families.