Criminal Justice Reform

Incarceration was intended to detain and rehabilitate those convicted of crimes defined as misdemeanors or felonies. While the intention is to penalize convicted criminals: the reality is that the system only reflects the disparity, discrimination, and dehumanization of the criminal justice system towards people of color, women and the mentally ill. Too often our jails and prisons are used to house the mentally ill, victimized, and poor: we punish the sick, vulnerable, and disabled for their disability. Reviewing state and federal court cases we find women disproportionately incarcerated and sentenced more harshly than men for the same crimes. Women and girls are criminalized and incarcerated 7X more frequently and harshly. America is intimidated by people of color, intimidated by what they cannot control or no longer exploit. Current institutionalization is a monster that gobbles up the poor, the mentally ill and those it considers a threat or expendable: it has just been easier to lock them up and figure out what to do later. My work within the prison and court systems has discovered more violent crimes are being committed by females at a younger age. What is more evident, is the warehousing of disproportionate numbers of people of color. Is it because we commit more crimes? No. It is because our communities are more heavily policed, our children more strictly monitored and suspected criminal cases more rigorously prosecuted. Black girls are assumed to be more responsible for their exploitation, black boys are judged to be guilty and rarely innocent and our parents spend more time in fear of what could happen instead of being confident in the opportunities being an American can offer.

To have an active role in criminal justice reform I have availed myself, my service, and my expertise to both community- based organizations, social activism, as well as law enforcement and court systems. I have served as Community Liaison, victims advocate, educator, trainer, mentor, counselor, Pastor and Consultant. My wheelhouse of community engagement includes co-creating the Atlanta Community Impact Program an opportunity for faith leaders, law enforcement and community stakeholders to come together and work as one unit in order to provide a network of support for the most vulnerable members of the community. I took the first camera in 25 years into Riker’s Island Women’s unit to interview incarcerated mothers who were caring for babies while behind bars. I am most proud of the partnership that led to creation of the Community Court system in Atlanta. Instead of “capture and arrest” the philosophy of the community court is to offer non -violent repeat offenders, who have the capacity to change their lives, the motivation, support, and opportunity to succeed. Community stakeholders collaborate to provide safety for the community, security for local businesses and services for the offender. After only 5 years the success rate is 96%.

I feel perfectly positioned to take the platform and vision for healthy communities to the next level, provide victims the tools to empower themselves to become survivors, ensure the voices of survivors are heard and valued, and finally, give survivors the courage to put their physical, mental and emotional health and well-being first. Donna is a natural leader. She commands the audience attention when she speaks, enlightens participants at any training and presents her story with compassion and transparency, even when you can see the emotional toll she pays each time she tells her story.