Your browser does not support JavaScript!

What can We Do:


A Collaboration between UNIS Human Rights Project & Proof: Media for Social Justice

In recent years, there has been increasing support to end mass incarceration, the result of the advocacy and organizing efforts of those most impacted by the criminal justice system. All levels of the criminal justice system are undergoing reform: from policing, to bail, to sentencing, to restoring rights to the formerly incarcerated. By the end of 2016, the number of incarcerated people had been reduced by 6% since its peak in 2007-2008.

At the federal level, significant reform is underway. In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), which reduced the sentencing disparity between offenses for crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1.In 2015, the federal government passed the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which reduced mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and provided judges with greater sentencing discretion. In recent years, more than half of US states have limited the scope and severity of their mandatory sentencing laws, and a 2012 ballot initiative in California limited its notorious three-strikes law.

In 2016, President Barack Obama initiated the Second Chance Pell grants program which enabled 12,000 prisoners in over 100 state and federal prisons to take college courses. The Obama administration also ended the use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in the federal prison system. 

Today, over 31 states and 150 cities and counties have passed “banning the box” legislation so that employers can consider a candidate’s job qualifications first—without the stigma of a conviction or arrest record. As of 2017, 16 states had introduced legislation to restore voting rights to some of the over 6 million formerly incarcerated people who are currently disenfranchised.

Cities have been at the forefront of reform: In 2018, the San Francisco District Attorney’s office announced that thousands of people with misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession dating back 40 years will have their criminal records cleared.

Many of New York’s reform initiatives are particularly noteworthy. In 2013, a federal judge found that stop-and-frisk policing was racially discriminatory and ruled it unconstitutional. In 2017, the New York Legislature passed Raise the Age, an initiative that raised the age of criminal responsibility from 16- and-17-year-olds to 18 years of age. In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to close the Rikers Island jail complex and replace the jails with smaller ones throughout New York City.

2018 has seen continued reform on multiple fronts. The Manhattan District Attorney office announced the end to prosecutions for turnstile jumping. Mayor de Blasio signed a new law making NYC the first city in the country where people held in jails can make phone calls for free. District attorneys in Brooklyn and Manhattan ordered prosecutors not to request bail in most misdemeanor cases. The New York State Governor restored the right to vote to over 35,000 New Yorkers on parole.

And alongside these reforms, crime has continued to decline. In the past ten years, serious crime decreased 58% in NYC, while the incarceration rate declined 55%. Nationwide, between 201o and 2015, the incarceration rate decreased 8.4% while the combined violent and property crime rate fell by 14.6%, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Test your knowledge.

Chapter 16 — Question 01

Those most impacted by the criminal justice system have been leading the efforts to end mass incarceration.

Please select 2 correct answers

Correct! Wrong!

All levels of the criminal justice system are undergoing reform: from policing, to bail, to sentencing, to restoring rights to the formerly incarcerated. By the end of 2016, the number of incarcerated people had been reduced by 6% since its peak in 2007-2008.

Chapter 16 — Question 01


Associate Vice President of Policy at the Fortune Society, a reentry organization whose goal is to build people, not prisons.

I was invested in by men who are going to die in prison. They had already accepted that and the way they give back to society is by investing in people like me who have an opportunity to go home. I landed in the maximum security prison with the most programs developed and implemented by men in that facility, not by the New York State Corrections Institution, but by men who knew what other men needed.If everyone had the same experience that I had and were given the same opportunities, more people would come out of prison and not recidivate. The hardest part of this work is investing in something when the likelihood of it happening in your lifetime is very slim. The system and society that I envision is much bigger than the criminal justice system, it is literally how we have not resolved the issue of how we founded this country. When you think of the Civil Rights Movement, you think ‘it’s amazing what Rosa Parks did’ but it couldn’t have only been her. ‘It’s amazing what MLK did’ but it couldn’t have only been him. There will be the MLKs and the Rosa Parks in this movement, the people whose stories will be idolized. But there will a bunch of other people too. I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that I did something, not just that I made it out and that was it.

Read KHALIL Story
Continue to

Chapter Seventeen