& ANDREA JAMES
The Legacy of Criminal Justice Reform
When Robert F. Kennedy voiced his approval for The Criminal Justice Act of 1964, he was taking a stand “to make our ideal of ‘equal justice under law’ a reality” for impoverished people throughout the country. By supporting the right to counsel for all, regardless of income, Kennedy held the US criminal justice system to a higher standard of fairness. During his campaign, he would extend his criticisms to the death penalty, calling for an end to the widely-accepted practice.
This lesson plan explores Robert F. Kennedy’s legacy of criminal justice reform in a time defined by the rise of the New Jim Crow, a term coined by Michelle Alexander in reference to the racial inequalities present in the criminal justice system today. As we build a bridge between the past and the present and reflect on the work of the advocates of then and now, we should keep one question in mind: what do we do next?
GETTING FROM THEN TO NOW:
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CIVIL RIGHTS AND POLITICAL PARTICIPATION
BECOME A DEFENDER
The activities listed below are suggestions for how students can join the coalition of human rights Defenders pushing for criminal justice reform.
Organize a fundraiser to donate to Andrea’s organization or another organization that focuses on criminal justice reform
Research statistics associated with mass incarceration in the US and create a pamphlet to share
Write to your state representatives urging them to pass legislation that will reduce the incarcerated population, and result in a fairer, more effective criminal justice system
If your state has laws in place, send a thank you note to your government officials and ask how the law is being implemented
Research local organizations within your community that serve the families of the incarcerated, and find ways for you and your classmates to further help