WGBH: Ayanna Pressley: Criminal Justice Reform Won't Happen By 'Tinkering At The Edges'

January 17, 2020
In The News

Rep. Ayanna Pressley said on Friday she hopes to achieve 80 percent decarceration through The People's Justice Guarantee, the sweeping criminal justice reform plan she released last November.

"I think our criminal legal system is so fundamentally flawed and broken it cannot be reformed by tinkering at the edges," she told Boston Public Radio. "We need a transformative, bold, radical reimagining of what the criminal legal system can be, by prioritizing decarceration.”

Black and brown Americans currently make up 31% of America’s population but 56% of the incarcerated population, according to information from Pressley's office. African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white people, according to the NAACP.

"The 1994 Crime Bill prioritized and incentived mass incarceration, and I don't believe we're any safer," Pressley said. "I don't believe anyone wakes up or was born to be a perpetrator. All of us deserve to live in a community and society that is safe, where we can be healthy and we can thrive, and as someone who grew up with an incarcerated parent ... he committed crimes to support his addiction, he committed crimes, but he was no criminal. What my father deserved was on-demand, culturally competent treatment, to address the traumas that resulted in his self medicating."

The plan would abolish the death penalty, reform sentencing guidelines, get rid of juvenile detention facilities, and abolish private prisons.

Pressley also discussed the now-viral, deeply personal video of her sharing her experience with hair loss due to alopecia. Pressley said she felt like her openness is part and parcel with her duty in a position of power.

"This is not just true with my alopecia, but I do believe in general, I'm here not to just occupy space but to create it," she said. "I think that's what's incumbent on all of us in positions of leadership."

Pressley had been working to conceal her baldness as it rapidly progressed over the course of a few weeks, until ultimately, on the eve of the day the House was to vote to impeach President Donald Trump, Pressley said the last strands of her hair fell out, leaving her completely bald.