Creating spaces for community healing
Healing and rebuilding communities that have been weakened by mass incarceration should be at the forefront of criminal justice reform. It is important to recognize that low-income communities of color have been disparately impacted by mass incarceration; and there must be spaces that allow these communities to heal from the injury that they have suffered. Affirmatively addressing community healing and rebuilding promotes an environment where recently released individuals can focus on reintegration rather than being funneled into dysfunctional spaces that foster resentment toward law enforcement officials. Strong communities ultimately promote overall safety.
Moreover, explicitly acknowledging past injustices is often the first step toward avoiding their repetition. Depending on the needs of the particular community, local commissions designed to promote truth and/or reconciliation may provide a forum for communal healing and a space for untold stories to be voiced. These commissions should be viewed as a first step toward repairing strained relationships between communities and law enforcement agencies. They should assist in building community trust and acknowledging the community’s role in promoting overall safety.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) should create incentives that promote healthy relationships between the community and law enforcement agencies by:
- Prioritizing law enforcement agencies that have a community forum strategy and/or other substantive community outreach strategy in all funding decisions, particularly for funding related to the Community Oriented Policing Services Program;
- Require that law enforcement agencies specify their plans for community cooperation and community forums in all funding applications; and
- Establish mechanisms for withholding funds from law enforcement agencies that exhibit a failure to maintain positive community relations.
The Department of Justice Community Relations Service, which “works with all parties, including State and local units of government, private and public organizations, civil rights groups, and local community leaders, to uncover the underlying interests of all of those involved in the conflict and facilitates the development of viable, mutual understandings and solutions to the community’s challenges,” should identify communities that require mediation and other restorative services stemming for discriminatory practices and act as a community resource.
Local and state legislatures should pass legislation that supports the:
- Creation of commissions for truth and/or reconciliation, where there is a history of past abuse and/or community mistrust of law enforcement. These commissions should be tasked with making recommendations based on their findings;
- Ensure that “Monuments, memorials and markers are erected to facilitate this important public dialogue. Education must be accompanied by acts of reconciliation, which are needed to overcome acts of racial bigotry and legacies of injustice;” and
- Development of community forums that create a space for communities and law enforcement to foster a cooperative relationship.
Local police departments and police chiefs should promote community cooperation and create a space that promotes collaboration with the community by taking the following action:
- Coordinate monthly community forums intended to promote understanding and ease tensions, where rank and file police officers interact with community members and local activists and facilitate policing practices consistent with community values. The discussions and outcomes from these community forums should be dispersed to all police department members and incorporated into internal police department meetings;
- Educate new police recruits and other rank and file police officers about the role that positive community relations play in maintaining police legitimacy and officer safety;
- Recruit police officers from within the communities that the police serve; and
- Where appropriate, issue a formal apology to the community for past misconduct.