No matter what we look like or where we come from, most of us have known the pain of seeing loved ones struggle—friends who have dealt with substance use, children who have made rebellious choices, neighbors in over their heads trying to make ends meet. We also share some basic desires: that our communities would be places where people can overcome their struggles and be treated as equals. Where we are free to care for our families, find success, and be recognized for our best moments—not just our worst.
But for too long, we’ve allowed police and prison lobbyists to convince our leaders that separating people from their families through endless punishment is somehow a path to safety: an estimated 8 million Americans have been to prison, over 70 million (20% of the population) are living with a criminal record, and nearly half of American families are impacted by American prisons and jails. Contrary to the claims of certain politicians, these policies have actually made us less safe.
The truth is, we know what keeps us safe. Research demonstrates that 3 key factors are particularly important for lowering crime and increasing safety: 1) steady income, whether through employment or public benefits; 2) access to safe, stable housing; and 3) access to care and services. These are the factors that promote well-being, success, and empowerment for individuals, families, and communities—all while reducing crime. If we want to imagine a world where people are given a chance to address harm and heal, we must invest in the things that foster success and equal justice.