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Rethinking America’s Approach to Crime and Rehabilitation

In his thought-provoking blog post, Community Empowerment Activist Maxwell Drati, Politics, African American Studies ‘25, highlights the systemic failures and social injustices plaguing America, from educational disparities and healthcare accessibility to the shortcomings of the criminal justice system. Drati argues that the U.S. has prioritized punitive measures, such as prisons, over genuine rehabilitation and communal care, which fail to address the root causes of crime and social issues. Drawing attention to No More Tears at San Quentin Prison, Drati advocates for a shift towards a more humane and effective approach to justice and rehabilitation. He emphasizes the importance of learning from grassroots initiatives and prioritizing the experiences of those directly impacted by these systemic issues to create stronger, more inclusive foundations for marginalized communities.

In California, 82% of Black students are below reading and math proficiency levels. The Veteran Affairs Office reports that 30% of U.S. veterans have lifelong PTSD, and 33% of children in inner-city neighborhoods are diagnosed with the same condition. Despite being the “tech capital,” the San Francisco Bay Area has Richmond, the city with the highest rates of cancer and respiratory diseases in California. Shockingly, homicide is the leading cause of death for Black men under 25, as per the CDC. Additionally, 99% of homes are unaffordable for the average American, and 51% of working-age Americans struggle to afford healthcare, with 32% burdened by medical debt and 39.7 million living below the poverty line. These alarming statistics highlight the failures in education, healthcare, and housing that contribute significantly to the rise in crime.Yet, the U.S. continues to invest in a prison system that has proven ineffective for over two centuries, leading to only 15% of Americans trusting their government to do what’s right.

While the concept of prison—removing violent offenders from society to rehabilitate them—makes sense in theory, the reality is far from ideal. Prisons often serve as punishment apparatuses and deterrents, rather than rehabilitation centers. This punitive approach fails to address the root causes of criminal behavior, focusing instead on punishment rather than healing or prevention. As a result, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that two-thirds of formerly incarcerated individuals return to prison within two to three years.

Given the failures of punitive justice, it’s time to consider alternative approaches. Communal care offers a promising solution by focusing on understanding and addressing the root causes of crime, particularly in America’s impoverished inner-city and rural communities. These communities suffer from systemic injustices, lack of resources, and psychological damage, making the current prison system obsolete.

Organizations like No More Tears at San Quentin Prison provide a revolutionary approach to rehabilitation. Founded by Lonnie Morris, who is formerly incarcerated and raised in the Bay Area, No More Tears views incarcerated individuals as people who have made bad decisions and need healing. The organization teaches skills such as anger management, self-awareness, and conflict resolution, achieving an impressive 87% success rate in preventing re-incarceration.

The failure of the criminal justice system is just one of many crises facing our country. As activists, legislators, movement workers, policymakers, and humanitarians, our role is to develop innovative solutions to combat systemic injustices and support those who need it most.

Rather than over-intellectualizing these humanitarian issues, we need to focus on humane solutions that address the heart of the problem.

While academic knowledge is essential for understanding the complexities of politics and criminology, it cannot replace the real-life experiences of those who have lived through the challenges we aim to address. No More Tears exemplifies the transformative power of education and rehabilitation, proving that grassroots initiatives led by those who have experienced incarceration firsthand can be more effective than state-sponsored programs.

To create a more just and equitable society, we must shift our focus from punitive justice to transformative justice. This approach requires a fundamental change in how we view and treat incarcerated individuals, emphasizing rehabilitation over punishment. By learning from organizations like No More Tears and prioritizing the voices and experiences of those directly impacted by the criminal justice system, we can develop stronger foundations for marginalized communities. These foundations will not only withstand the challenges of systemic injustice, racism, and bigotry but also pave the way for a more inclusive and compassionate America.

Learn more about CEAs and the activist organizations where our students intern!

Sarina Barot-Martinez • March 28, 2024


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