Rolling Out

Dr. Benjamin Chavis champions the virtues of prison reform

Benjamin Chavis
Courtesy of Dr. Benjamin Chavis Facebook

As the fight for prison reform in America continues to gain momentum, Dr. Benjamin F Chavis Jr. has successfully stepped to the forefront to be a leading voice in the discussion. As the president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, Chavis has a bird’s ­eye view of where this issue falls within the consciousness of our nation. The thought leader sat down for an exclusive interview with rolling out to discuss the matter.

Why is criminal justice reform important to our economy today?

Criminal justice reform in the United States of America is long over due. I personally know something about the criminal justice system. During the 1970’s I spent some time in my home state of North Carolina in the prison system and what I witnessed there and what I know today is there are so many people beyond race and class that are in jail that should not be in jail. So the question of over criminalization is something to be addressed, and I’m hoping that this bipartisan effort that is emerging will be effective. It takes a movement of people from various backgrounds, stakeholders and various people that have been impacted. I would say that in 2015 going into 2016, this is one of the most important issues in public policy—the reform of the criminal justice system.

How will prison reform change the African American community?

Prison reform will have a fundamental positive change in the African American community. Today we are disproportionately incarcerated, arrested and racially profiled. Today, we are the victims of prosecutorial unfairness and it’s a whole system. I think because African Americans are disproportionate in every factor, people see this as a black issue and this is not just a black American issue. It affects black Americans; it affects Latino Americans; it affects Native Americans; it affects all Americans, and I think Americans need to come together. That is why on behalf of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, I am very excited about this emerging bipartisan collection to promote criminal justice reform. It will have a positive impact not only on the Black community, but I think it will have a positive impact on the entire American society.

Why is it important to remove the checkbox on the job application? Don’t employers have the right to know if a person has been in prison?

We need to remove the check in the box, and we need to remove the stigma of over criminalization in the United States of America. I believe that this situation leads to poverty and it’s a downward spiral. I think that there are a lot of programs to end poverty, but if you really want to end poverty, stop mass incarceration, stop over criminalization, and stop these policies that stop people from getting employment even after they have served their time. This is wrong, this is not justice and we need real justice, which I call restorative justice.

What actions should people be taking today in requesting help from their public officials in this process and fight?

One is to end mandatory minimum sentencing. Mandatory minimum sentencing has many nonviolent, first­time drug offenders in jail for long periods of time, and that’s fundamentally wrong. That is something that each state legislator and the Congress of the United States [on the] federal [level] can end if we have the political will needed to be a strong Bipartisan movement.

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