The U.S. criminal justice system is defined and fueled by foundations and principles that uphold harmful power dynamics such as white supremacy, further destabilizing communities that face intersecting structural barriers. This paternalistic system is characterized by the imposition of punishments—including fees, fines, penalties, and deprivation of freedom and even life—that are meted out disproportionally to people of color and people living in poverty. More often than not, policymakers and justice practitioners fail to solicit the views, experiences, and expertise of community members and justice system-involved individuals, leading to policies and practices crafted under the auspices of promoting safety that undermine community stability instead. Consistent with Square One ’s charge to “reimagine how we create justice,” this paper describes approaches that communities around the country employ to craft, lead, and participate in their own public safety strategies. The paper will offer examples of crime prevention work, investment and divestment efforts, and policy reform initiatives developed and guided by people most likely to experience crime and the heavy hammer of the traditional justice system. This paper will explore the promises, strengths, and challenges associated with each approach, presenting a range of creative strategies for residents—in partnership with the broader community of advocates, activists, and researchers—to adapt, own, and implement.
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