When it comes to policy and politics lately it seems like we can’t agree on anything. Yet beyond all the talking past each other, shouting, and snarky emoji use, new polling has revealed that a lot of us – and I mean a LOT – are on the same page when it comes to reforming our criminal justice system.

Let’s talk numbers:

  • 91% of Americans say that the criminal justice system has problems that need fixing;
  • 71% say it’s important to reduce the prison population in America;
  • 2 in 3 Americans would be more likely to vote for an elected official if the candidate supported reducing the prison population and using the savings to reinvest in drug treatment and mental health programs;
  • 84% of Americans believe that people with mental health disabilities belong in mental health programs instead of prison.

These results are staggering. Simply put, a whole heck of a lot of us – Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Trump voters, Clinton voters, and more – agree that it’s time to do something to change this system that isn’t working for anyone. Nationwide reforms are needed, but there are many things we can put in motion right now in South Dakota to begin transforming our communities and our state for the better. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Know your elected officials: your city, county, and state representatives have enormous power to shape how our criminal justice system operates. Get to know who they are and ask them where they stand on criminal justice reforms.
  • Pay attention to your local State’s Attorney’s office. The State’s Attorney in your county has the power to decide who gets charged with a crime, who gets sent to treatment, and who deserves a second chance. State’s Attorneys are elected into office, which means they’re accountable to the people – feel free to remind them of this.
  • Ask local businesses if they believe in giving formerly convicted people second chances. Encourage them to be open-minded about hiring people with criminal records.

These might seem like small things – and they are. But if each and every one of us did one or more of these small things we could change the way people talk about criminal justice and we could show our leaders that supporting smart, sensible reforms isn’t just the right thing to do, but it’s one that the vast majority of their constituents support. 

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