Criminal justice reform advocates are trying to spark a larger conversation regarding the role race and poverty play in mass incarceration. In Hartford recently, a dialogue took place between lawyers, community stakeholders and rehabilitated offenders.
Karriem Holness was convicted on a first-degree assault charge when he was 19. Once he got out, he said he faced barriers in trying to get a job.
“I was released when I was 32 years old," he told those gathered at the event. "It was difficult for me to have success, find work -- continue being denied. No one would give me a shot.”
Connecticut’s incarceration rate went down 25 percent from 2008 to 2016. But the dialogue at the Chrysalis Center was organized to remind the community that the drive for criminal justice reform in Connecticut is not finished yet.
Peter Edelman is a law professor at Georgetown University. He was a counselor on poverty welfare and juvenile justice in the Clinton administration.
“We need to be talking about income, jobs, education, housing, healthcare and the list goes on really and on because what we want is that people never enter the system in the first place,” he said.
Edelman identified high bail and a lack of public defenders as problems for people facing jail time. That's also a concern for Ana Maria Rivera-Forastieri, the co-director of the Connecticut Bail Fund, who said the level of bail is exacerbated by a racial disparity.
"The average bail for a white man is $68,000. For a black man, it’s $112,000. You can’t ignore what’s right there in front of us,” she said.
Rivera-Forastieri believes the solution lies within the impacted population being included in the conversation. She also proposes eliminating jail time for certain crimes.
The panel was convened by Everyday Democracy, a local organization that promotes change through community engagement initiatives. Guests at the Hartford event were asked to do what they could to continue the conversation once they went back out into the world.
Karriem Holness is accepting this challenge by going into work into youth services or by becoming a drug counselor.
“If it can help just one person then I feel like I’m doing my part – and just continue to try to talk to youth about the things I went through and my experiences,” he said.
Holness has just been accepted to Springfield College and he’ll start in January. He’ll have a human services major.