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November 14, 2019

Rep. Pressley Launches A Bold, Progressive Criminal Legal Reform Resolution: The People’s Justice Guarantee

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), introduced a comprehensive, people-centered, decarceration-focused legislation H. Res. 702, The People’s Justice Guarantee. Congresswoman Pressley’s resolution lays out a bold, new vision for justice in the American criminal legal system. The resolution aims to outline a framework that will transform the U.S. criminal legal system to one that meets America’s foundational yet unfilled promise of justice for all.  

Currently, more Americans live in jails and prisons than in Phoenix, Philadelphia, or the state of New Mexico. Additionally, the American criminal legal system is disproportionately decimating Black and brown communities, who unjustly make up 31% of America’s population but 56% of the incarcerated population.

“You cannot have a government for and by the people if it is not represented by all of the people,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “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.”


To view the summary, click here.

To view the Data for Progress criminal justice poll, click here.

To view the resolution, click here.



The mass incarceration crisis has taken a severe toll on families with an estimated 1 in 2 U.S. adults, including 2.1 million American children, having had an immediate family member spend at least one or more nights in jail. Women, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, and people with disabilities have also been disproportionately impacted by the criminal legal system and subjected to the traumatizing effects of practices like solitary confinement. In July, in response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s announcement that they will resume the use of the death penalty for the first time in more than 16 years, Congresswoman Pressley introduced H.R. 4052, legislation to prohibit the use of the death penalty at the federal level and require re-sentencing of those currently on death row. Additionally, she wrote a letter with Congressman Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the Oversight ​Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, to Attorney General Barr and the Bureau of Prisons demanding answers on plans to resume the use of the death penalty.

The People’s Justice Guarantee lays out the framework needed to create a fair, equitable, and just criminal legal system and emphasizes the need for a participatory “peoples process” as a critical aspect of effective policy-making. Ultimately, the resolution calls to substantially reduce the number of people incarcerated and transform the purpose and experience of the criminal legal system.

The People’s Justice Guarantee was developed in collation with several grassroots organizations, advocates, and individuals including: National Immigration Law Center, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Immigrant Defense Project, UndocuBlack Network, KNOW YOUR SMOKE, Inner City Weightlifting, Tufts University Prison Initiative of Tisch College, African-American Coalition Committee of MCI-Norfolk, SAW youth program, Janelle Ridley, and United We Dream.



Congresswoman Pressley’s resolution is based on 5 guiding principles:

  1. Shared Power
The People’s Justice Guarantee enlists a participatory people’s process – through assemblies, town halls, listening sessions, and workshops ─ to ensure that communities directly impacted by mass incarceration and historical oppression will be active partners in achieving true justice, freedom and safety for all.

  1. Freedom
The People’s Justice Guarantee calls for a significant reduction of the U.S. prison population by promoting policies at the federal, state, and local levels to support mass decarceration and repealing failed policies of the war on drugs and 1994 crime bill. Prison should be a last resort, not the first stop.

  1. Equality
The People’s Justice Guarantee calls for equal justice under the law by abolishing private prison, jail, and immigrant detention contracts; bail bondsmen; and other prison profit-making mechanisms such as telecommunications and health care that rake in billions of dollars at the expense of incarcerated people.

  1. Safety
The People’s Justice Guarantee seeks to disrupt the over-policing, criminalization and presumption of guilt among vulnerable groups – such as people of color, women, immigrants, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community. These communities disproportionately come in contact with the criminal legal system and the People’s Justice Guarantee aims to break the cycles of violence and discrimination that lead to it.

  1. Dignity
The People’s Justice Guarantee uplifts the humanity and dignity of all people by challenging the underlying racism, criminalization, dehumanization and oppression that define the U.S. criminal legal system.


The People’s Justice Guarantee pledges to create a more just and equal society by reimagining safety and dismantling discriminatory aspects of the current criminal injustice system. Amongst other things, the People’s Justice Guarantee calls for:

  • Dramatically Reducing Jail and Prison Populations by
    • Expanding access to restorative justice and diversion programs
    • Decriminalizing consensual sex work and low-level offenses, which are byproducts of poverty, homelessness, discrimination and/or addiction
    • Ending the death penalty, including life sentences without the possibility of parole, which effectively function as “death by incarceration”
    • Capping sentences, for all crimes, particularly those that do no cause serious harm
  • Transforming the Experience of Confinement by
    • Ending solitary confinement
    • Expanding visitation
    • Allowing trans people to be housed in accordance with their chosen gender identity
    • Providing high-quality, trauma-informed, and culturally-responsive mental and physical health care (including substance- use therapy, hormone therapy, and mental health treatment)
    • Increases vocational and educational access, including Pell Grants, and ends the use of forced labor
  • Eliminating Wealth-Based Discrimination and Corporate Profiteering by
    • Prohibiting private companies from profiting off of incarceration and immigrant detention
    • Relieving people in poverty of the unfair debt burdens by ending the use of money bail and the imposition of unaffordable fines and fees – ceasing the practice of charging people for their own supervision and banning incarceration for debt alone
    • Supporting a just transition for returning citizens, including policies that remove restrictions to employment and public services such as housing, education assistance, and voting
  • Investing in Impacted Communities by
    • Ending the transfer of military equipment to local police and refocusing resources to dramatically increase clearance (or solve) rates for the most serious crimes – shootings, homicides, domestic and sexual violence
    • Limiting firearm production and sales
    • Eliminating qualified immunity and establishing standards on use of force, de-escalation, and crisis intervention training including the designation of a non-911 number for dispatch of crisis and trauma intervention teams

“The promise of our country is that people can live in their gifts, but right now millions of people can’t access those gifts because they’re trapped in a broken criminal justice system,” said DeRay McKesson, Activist, Author, and Host of Pod Save the People. “We deserve a People’s Justice Guarantee – a guarantee that lifts up the voices of activists all across America and translates our advocacy into fundamental change. Together, we have the power to reshape a system that is absent of justice and over-polices and over-criminalizes Black and brown communities into one that allows all people to live and thrive.”


 “Congresswoman Pressley is a champion for change and progress, and we always need leadership that pushes us toward a safer and more just America,’’ said Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins. “For too many people, our criminal legal system is broken. Wealth and privilege should never dictate outcome, and unfortunately, too often they do.  I welcome Congresswoman Pressley’s efforts to engage in the conversation about criminal justice and I look forward to partnering with her on many of these important issues.’’


“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. “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. Congresswoman Pressley’s resolution contributes to a vision of an America that is more free because everyone has the opportunity to live a safe, stable, and dignified life.”


“This resolution is another major step forward for our communities and a testament to decades of work to redefine public safety and end mass criminalization and incarceration done by grassroots organizations and social movements,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison, Co-Executive Director and Network President at the Center for Popular Democracy. “This year, in particular, communities have come together to acknowledge the relentless emotional, financial, and human toll of mass incarceration and mass criminalization accelerated by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. This has given way to incredible movements like the People’s Coalition for Safety and Freedom. We thank Representative Pressley for following our communities’ leadership and championing this resolution in our vision. We look forward to engaging with her on a People’s Process that will further develop policy platforms for our justice system and democracy, and know that she will continue to seek real insight and leadership from our communities as we build this new vision of public safety together.”


“While impacted communities have achieved a great deal of progress toward ending our overzealous reliance on punishment as justice, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done to create a system that is fair and repairs the harms brought on by mass incarceration,” said Scott Roberts, Sr Director of Criminal Justice Campaigns, Color Of Change. “Representative Pressley’s resolution is an important step in the right direction. It lays out a promising blueprint for federal leadership on decarceration and creates an opening for our communities to be heard. We look forward to working with her and other members of Congress to achieve real policy change.”


“The National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls is proud to endorse Representative Pressley’s revolutionary The People’s Justice Guarantee. We particularly applaud the acknowledgment of the harm that the criminal legal system has inflicted on incarcerated women, 80% of whom are mothers of minor children. The current system is destroying families and communities, a devastation that must end. This resolution provides a roadmap for seeking solutions from the most impacted people, who have the expertise to provide effective solutions to end mass incarceration. The National Council looks forward to working with Representative Pressley and other members of Congress to realize the vision outlined in this resolution,” said Andrea James, Executive Director of the National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.


“The Boston chapter of Black and Pink is proud to support Congresswoman Pressley’s bold steps toward decarcerating our country,” said Michael Cox, Director of Policy, Black and Pink Boston. “The People’s Justice Guarantee calls to shrink the criminal legal system, decriminalize sex work, abolish cash bail and decommission solitary confinement units are strident steps toward greater justice. She recognizes that the most marginalized people within our communities are often the most impacted. Her team has eagerly listened to formerly incarcerated LGBTQ people, their expertise and experiences within the system, which is a model that all policy makers should follow.  We look forward to Congresswoman Pressley partnering with us to bring these mutual goals to fruition.”


 “The ACLU is pleased to support the People’s Justice Guarantee, the first resolution of its kind to boldly reimagine the American legal system,” said Kanya Bennett, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU. “The bill confronts the racism, classism, and other supremacy rooted in every aspect of the system, from policing to sentencing. It is with this framework that the Congress must now work to eradicate mass incarceration.”


“The criminal justice system, at all levels, is stacked against communities of color, Black people and immigrants largely due to the racist policies that came out of the 1994 Crime bill and harsh immigration laws passed in 1996. It is time to roll those policies back and put an end to the criminalization of our communities of color,” said Patrice S. Lawrence, Co-Director of the UndocuBlack Network.  “Communities of color, and Black people in particular, are racially profiled, are disproportionately arrested without cause and deported at higher rates than other immigrants. We must have the right to due process and a fair and equitable chance even in spite of the targeting and over-policing of our communities. At UndocuBlack, we have advocated for several families and individuals who have been doubly penalized by the penal and immigration detention systems. It is with this in mind that the UndocuBlack Network strongly endorses the People’s Justice Guarantee and lauds Representative Ayanna Pressley’s commitment to a process by deliberately collaborating with and including directly impacted communities.”


“For too long the stories, struggles, and trauma of children with incarcerated parents have been rendered invisible. But no more,” said Ebony Underwood, Founder and CEO of WE GOT US NOW.  Like me, Congresswoman Pressley knows firsthand the traumatizing impact of having a father in prison and that in sharing our stories we can ensure that others like us are never forgotten. The People’s Justice Guarantee puts forward a bold framework that centers the lived experiences of children and families impacted by incarceration. Its commitment to decarceration and keeping families intact is proof that the Congresswoman intends to fight for justice for all of us ─ most especially those of us with a parent behind bars.”


“There’s no question that mass incarceration causes deep harm to young people, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ people, and stands in the way of achieving reproductive justice for all,” said Kimberly Inez McGuire, Executive Director of Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity (URGE). “Bans on abortion coverage, lack of sex education, state violence, discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people, and stigma against our bodies, genders, sex, and decisions all make it harder for each of us to live free and with dignity, and mass incarceration makes all of these systemic harms even worse. We applaud Rep. Pressley and all of the courageous sponsors for this important resolution that would bring us closer to dismantling the unjust systems that disproportionately displace and harm Black and brown people; people who are pregnant; queer, trans, and nonbinary people; young people; and sex workers.”


“As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating, lifelong consequences that come with a criminal record, but I’ve also seen what’s possible when even a single individual intervenes to break the cycle of incarceration. Our criminal legal system is ripe for reinvention, but that reinvention is only possible if stakeholders at every level – from police officers to prosecutors to federal policymakers – commit to bold, transformative change like those laid out in Congresswoman Pressley’s People’s Justice Guarantee,” said Adam Foss, Founder/Executive Director, Prosecutor Impact. “Working in partnership with the people most impacted, we have the power to dismantle a fundamentally unjust system that further perpetuates trauma, unequal access to justice, and the conditions that most often lead to involvement in the system. The People’s Justice Guarantee makes clear that these policies will be far-reaching in its call for justice at every level of government.”


“Amidst Trump’s unrelenting attacks on immigrants and people of color, this is a moment for moral clarity and bold vision by our Congressional leaders,” said Alisa Wellek, Executive Director of Immigrant Defense Project. “We applaud The People’s Justice Guarantee, which recognizes the interconnections between policing, mass incarceration, detention and deportation and centers the experiences of those who have faced systemic violence, oppression and criminalization.” 


“There is a growing consensus that past efforts supposedly aimed at reducing violent crime in this country were really about the continued repression and subjugation of black and brown people. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s resolution, along with the one I released in my capacity as County Board Supervisor, shows that solutions for our communities require a strategy where elected leaders follow the expertise of those directly impacted. It’s long past time to shift our public dollars away from building prisons and locking people up, and towards education, school counseling, after-school programs, and restorative justice,” said Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson.


“Immigrant communities of color in the United States have for too long been doubly impacted by a system that targets them for the color of their skin and their place of birth,” said Heidi Altman, Director of Policy, National Immigrant Justice Center. “We are inspired to stand behind this bold proposal for a new vision of the United States legal system, one that respects human dignity and endeavors to work and build up all communities rather than tear them apart.”


“BYP100 would like to thank Representative Pressley for this resolution, as well as for naming the generational impact that criminalization has had and continues to have on Black communities. In this time, so many political leaders lack the courage to name the relentless toll that over-policing, jails, prisons, surveillance, and other anti-Black systems of oppression take on Black communities. We applaud Rep. Pressley for her courage and integrity,” said D’atra Jackson, National Director of BYP100. “This is an unprecedented and necessary step toward undoing harm and beginning a People’s Process. More specifically, a People’s Process that reimagines safety by centering those most impacted. We will continue working alongside our communities to develop sustainable solutions that do not reinforce harmful systems.”


The People’s Justice Guarantee is endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Color of Change, UndocuBlack, Black and Pink Boston, URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigrant Law Center, Immigrant Defense Project, HIPS, the Modern Military Association of America, SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Black Police Association, Positive Women’s Network-USA, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, JustLeadershipUSA, College and Community Fellowship, United We Dream, the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, the National Abortion Federation, and If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice.