Ayanna Pressley Seeks to Remake Criminal Justice System

By Shani Saxon Nov 15, 2019

On Thursday (November 14), Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) introduced The People’s Justice Guarantee, a bill that calls for a sweeping overhaul of the justice system that centers “the voices of the people most impacted by injustice in America,” per a statement. From Pressley in the statement:


You cannot have a government for and by the people if it is not represented by all of the people. For far too long, those closest to the pain have not been closest to the power, resulting in a racist, xenophobic, rogue and fundamentally flawed criminal legal system. The People’s Justice Guarantee is the product of a symbiotic partnership with over 20 grassroots organizations and people impacted by the discriminatory policies of our legal system. Our resolution calls for a bold transformation of the status quo—devoted to dismantling injustices so that the system is smaller, safer, less punitive and more humane.

Pressley hopes to use policy to shift “the purpose and experience of the criminal legal system,” while dramatically reducing the U.S. prison and jail population. The proposed legislation calls for decriminalizing migration, ending mandatory minimum sentencing and abolishing the death penalty and sentences of life without parole. Per the statement, the legislation is based on five “guiding principles”: shared power, freedom, equality, safety and dignity.

The resolution highlights the need to uphold the dignity and humanity of those impacted most by the criminal justice system, and it proposes tax incentives to encourage local governments to decarcerate and moves to decriminalize sex work. Pressley also pushes for an end to the “draconian systems of mandatory detention and automatic deportation” of people crossing the U.S. border. Additionally, the resolution stresses the need to allow “transgender individuals to be housed in a facility that conforms with their gender identity” and calls for federal Pell grants to be rewarded regardless of incarceration status. 

“We have an incarceration crisis in America that is making us less safe and undermining the values upon which our country is built—liberty and justice for all,” said Rob Smith, executive director of The Justice Collaborative, in the statement. “The People’s Justice Guarantee is a bold, transformative plan to shrink our jail and prison populations sharply, end wealth-based discrimination in the criminal legal system, and invest heavily in the communities that have been the most destabilized by the failed policies of mass incarceration.”

The bill is endorsed by nearly a dozen organizations, including American Civil Liberties Union, Color of Change, UndocuBlack Network, National Immigrant Justice Center and URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity. Read it here.